The highest praise Dan Aykroyd ever received was when Eric Idle said that of all the comic actors he's worked with Aykroyd was the only one worthy of being in Monty Python. Watching the first season of Saturday Night Live it's easy to see why he merits such hyperbolic praise. Before Phil Hartman and Will Ferrell, Aykroyd functioned as the comic glue that held Saturday Night Live together. Beyond his tongue-twisting virtuosity Aykroyd was an insanely versatile performer who could play any role and made every skit he appeared in better. When reading an oral history of John Belushi I was struck that the cast and crew of SNL viewed the loss of Aykroyd as a much bigger blow to the show than Belushi's departure. Everyone knew Belushi was gone as soon as Animal House became a phenomenon but Aykroyd seemed like a guy who could happily toil in the trenches of sketch comedy for at least a few more years.
Not surprisingly Aykroyd's film career got off to an auspicious start (once you throw movies like 1941 and Neighbors out of the equation, of course). Unlike Chevy Chase, Belushi or even Bill Murray, Aykroyd co-wrote many of his signature hits, particularly The Blues Brothers and Ghostbuster. So it seemed a logical next step for one of the sharpest comedy minds of the seventies and eighties to branch out into directing. Alas, Aykroyd's directorial debut, 1991's Nothing But Trouble in many ways marked the beginning of the end. In a desperate bid to reclaim stardom Aykroyd revisted past triumphs with the Coneheads movie and Blues Brothers 2000 but those flops only highlighted just how far Aykroyd had fallen.
As the nineties wore on Aykroyd's career increasingly entailed starring roles in films no one even knew existed (the no-doubt-hilarious 1996 Jack Lemmon Nazi-next-door-neighbor comedy Getting Away With Murder) and thankless supporting roles in forgettable mainstream schlock. Aykroyd is still capable of turning in the odd crackerjack supporting performance (Grosse Pointe Blank, House Of Mirth and Bright Young Things being three prominent examples) but it's become increasingly apparent that for fat, old Aykroyd kindly dad roles in crap like Crossroads are the rule, not the exception. Clearly the star of Loose Cannons and Exit To Eden deserves better.
Nothing But Trouble consequently serves as an unfortunate turning point in Aykroyd's career. As the film's director, screenwriter and star Aykroyd has only himself to blame for the film's spectacular failure.
Nothing But Trouble's plot taps into a fear common among wealthy Manhattan yuppies: that once they leave the cozy confines of the five boroughs inbred hillbillys will try to kill them for being wealthy Manhattan yuppies. In yet another virtuoso exercise in sleepwalking and energy consumption Chevy Chase plays a wealthy New York financial publishing titan who embarks on a road trip East as a way of getting closer to foxy lawyer Demi Moore. We know Moore is a smart, driven career girl because at one point she wears glasses.
Chase, Moore and the Brazilian minstrel-show double-act they're traveling with are stopped for speeding in a seemingly sleepy small town ruled with an iron fist by Dan Aykroyd's grotesque judge, a deranged old coot old enough to be Mr. Burns' great, great grandfather. Aykroyd presides over a towering haunted house/courtroom decorated with rotting debris "borrowed" from meddlesome out-of-towners whose corpses litter the many trap doors and secret chambers throughout Aykroyd's elaborate amusement-park-style torture chamber.
Chase soon finds himself warding off the unwanted advances of Aykroyd's mute daughter, played by John Candy in drag, while Moore searches for a way out. Chase turns in his usual low-energy, low-output performance here. If it were at all possible to do so, I very much suspect that Chase would deliver every performance while napping in a La-Z-Boy recliner.
The tragically misused Candy and Aykroyd here embody comic grotesques that amply live up to the second part of the comic-grotesque equation but come up short on the "comic" part. The only time I even came close to laughing during the entire film was when special guest stars Digital Underground (featuring a hanger-on who'd go on to a little bit of fame as 2Pac) refer to Aykroyd's abode as "Extremely Draculated". Aykroyd embraces icky prosthetics and repugnant make-up with the outsized glee of a virginal Fangoria subscriber but neglected to add "gags" to his constant gross-out attacks.
Watching Aykroyd fill every last molecule of the screen with stomach-churning ugliness is like watching a disturbed preteen boy proudly display a giant map of the U.S.A made entirely out of the internal organs of roadkill: no matter how much care and thought went into it it's still disgusting and pointless. Nothing But Trouble is the antithesis of a "hang out movie". Aykroyd here has lovingly, meticulously created a hideous, grotesque nightmare world nobody in their right mind would want to visit the first time around, let alone return to.
Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success?:Failure