5/18/2007

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW - BEETHOVEN'S 3RD

Once again I am trapped in the Lynwood CPS office doing a visit, but the options for child entertainment have expanded. That's right, I am now watching the final chapter in the epic large-dog trilogy, Beethoven's 3rd.


The previous installment, Beethoven's 2nd, was released in 1993, and this latest came along 7 years later, in 2000. One wonders how after seven years, some producer suddenly remembers this brilliant concept--Giant dog + People = Hilarity, and decides it's time to revive the franchise. Of course, "revive" is a pretty strong word, because Beethoven's 3rd is not a legitimate sequel, it's the kind of low-budget, churned-out straight-to-video trash that moves directly from the shooting set to the 2.99$ DVD bargain bins at Walmart, without passing go or collecting any dollars.

So, Beethoven's 3rd. Let's have a look.

The first thing one notices about this new film is that it has pretty much nothing to do with the first two films. The original cast has been replaced by a crew of actors whose previous project was probably modeling for Kmart junk-mail catalogues. This crew is led by the Dad character, played by screen legend Judge Reinhold, in a performance sure to earn him an Oscar nomination for "Worst…Stupid…Acting"…if the Academy ever creates this category like I've been asking them to.

So, times have changed since 1993--this new, alternate Newton family is pretty much the reverse of the old one. In 1993, kids were cheerful and good-hearted, but now, in 2000, the young daughter is now a sassy little brat recording everything with a video camera, and the sweet, nerdy son of Beethoven 1 and 2 has been replaced by the archetypal Asshole Son so popular in modern film, complete with baggy pants, razor-tongued dialog, and plenty of Attitude. The dad is still a bumbling idiot who means well, but the mom is now a histrionic shrew instead of the patient, longsuffering woman of the original films. How Beethoven ends up in this thoroughly modern Newton family instead of the idealized one he grew up with is a rather muddled plot point. This new Judge Reinhold dad is the brother of the original Charles Grodin dad, and apparently they are going to be vacationing in the same area. For reasons unclear to me, the Original Newtons have Beethoven shipped to the Modern Newtons--in a huge metal crate like the one used to transport the Raptors in Jurassic Park--so that they can…bring him? To the vacation area? Or something? I have no idea where Beethoven was being shipped from, or why the Original Newtons didn't just bring him with them wherever they were going, but this is the plot, and we have to live with it.

The dynamic between Beethoven and the family has changed drastically. In the original films, Beethoven arrived as a sort of savior, beloved by the children, and serving as a silent protector of the family from the various sinister characters. In this film, the son hates him, the daughter is vaguely tolerant of him, and the parents mostly ignore him. He mostly just causes problems for the family and destroys their property. This is all strangely sad to witness, on some kind of weird subtext level. Beethoven arrives in this crate, transported from another universe. Transported from films that played in theaters, featuring known actors, with actual production values, to this surreal, straight-to-video-trash alternate universe, where he has no logical place in the plot, no relevance, and where even the characters don't seem to notice he is there. What if this happened to you? What if you woke up one day and found yourself in some alien situation, with people you don't really seem to know, just kind of drifting through a day to day plot that doesn't make sense? Is Beethoven's 3rd an elaborate metaphor for the alienation and essential loneliness of modern man, lost in a complex, dysfunctional, and soul-less modern society? Maybe, maybe…

The "plot", as it were, of this film, revolves around the obligatory Two Bumbling Villains pursuing the Newton Family on their trip. Apparently they encoded some kind of evil computer program onto a DVD in a video store? Which the Newtons then rented and took on their trip? I don't know. But anyway, the villains, two twenty-something nerds played by actors who will never have careers, chase the Newtons across the country, and perform various slapstick routines. You know, the usual schtick of being sprayed with poo-poo, covered in concrete, driving into lakes, etc. I think the theory is that anytime a human being gets covered in a fluid of some kind, people will laugh. Because, I mean, people aren't supposed to be covered in a fluid, right? It's all wet and icky. Hence, comedy.

So, they travel around, the guys chase them, hijinks, hilarity…. It's interesting watching a movie with the volume turned down low, because it all becomes kind of vague and dreamlike. At some point I think I lost track of the plot, because suddenly the Newtons are involved in a Wild West gunfight scene being performed by Sumo wrestlers? And everyone is wearing Sumo outfits, I don't know, I just don't know.

Ultimately, I just didn't care about the plot or the characters in Beethoven's 3rd. At the end of the film, when they arrived at the Newton family reunion, I had this surge of hope that we would catch a glimpse of Charles Grodin and the original cast, and that some link would be made between this pale, nightmarish world of bargain-bin obscurity and the bright, sunny world of the original films I've come to know and love so much. I knew this was unlikely, but how could they tie up the plot without this reunification taking place? I waited with held breath.

Of course, it didn't happen. Some old man at the reunion told them that the Newtons couldn't make it to the reunion and in fact, they were going to be absent for another year? Or something? So this family would have to continue to take care of Beethoven for another year? And also, here's the rest of the dogs, Beethoven's offspring? It didn't make much sense to me, but my heart dropped. Our beloved St. Bernard would spend another whole year trapped in this strange shadow-world, cut off from the people he loves, who are played by actors who have been in more than one film, and may still act again in other films. Beethoven will remain isolated and unloved, adrift in this cold, empty universe, alone, without a voice.

Beethoven's 3rd may be one of the most depressing films I have ever seen. When I get home I'm going to drink a bottle of vodka and watch the first two Beethovens over and over until I fall asleep on the couch in a crust of dried tears.


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