Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Whiffs (1975)

          The military-themed comedy Whiffs must have seemed promising at the conceptual stage, because the premise is outrageous—a schmuck GI spends years working as a test subject for the Army’s chemical-weapons program, gets discharged because the Army made him too sick to remain a viable test subject, can’t find steady work in the civilian world, and uses his knowledge of chemical weapons to mount a crime spree. A brilliant writer could have taken this material to wicked places, but the skill level of TV-trained scribe Malcolm Marmorstein falls well short of brilliance. His script introduces clever situations without exploiting their full potential, relies upon one-note characterizations, and simply isn’t funny enough. To be fair, Whiffs is infinitely more palatable than S*P*Y*S (1974), another project starring Elliot Gould to which Marmorstein made screenplay contributions. Yet the highest praise one can offer is that Whiffs is pleasant to watch except when it lapses into repetitive silliness, which happens often.
          The picture’s unlikely protagonist is Dudley Frapper (Gould), who enjoys getting bombarded with gases by the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, led by straight-laced Colonel Lockyer (Eddie Albert). The implied joke that Dudley is an Army-sanctioned drug enthusiast is among the many pieces of low-hanging fruit that Marmorstein fails to harvest. After his discharge, Dudley fails at several entry-level jobs, succumbs to self-pity, and heads to a bar where he reconnects with Chops Mulligan (Harry Guardino), a career criminal who endured chemical experiments alongside Dudley in order to secure an early parole. Chops picks a fight with the bartender, and Dudley sedates Chops’ opponent with a tube of laughing gas. Chops steals the money in the bar’s cash register, then proposes committing more crimes while using gas to immobilize people.
          It takes the movie far too long to reach this point, and the subplot of Dudley’s romance with a pretty Army nurse played by Jennifer O’Neill doesn’t add much beyond eye candy—and a drab running joke about Dudley’s virility. Meanwhile, the subplot involving Godfrey Cambridge as an opportunistic crop-duster pilot is exceedingly goofy. Gould contributes half-hearted work, and Guardino makes a valiant effort despite being ill-suited for his comic role. The same can be said for director Ted Post, a reliable hand for action pictures and melodramas but not a comedic director by any stretch of the imagination.

Whiffs: FUNKY

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