By Tom Kapr
My goal for Buried Cinema is to dig up the unjustly forgotten and the obscure, to unearth gems that have been buried under the sediment of cinematic history, to shed light upon the lesser-known, and to give the underrated their due respect. These are the treasures that deserve a wider audience. –Tom Kapr, Editor
For the past decade or so, Keaton has been working largely under the radar in limited-release dramas or as Katie Holmes’s/Lindsay Lohan’s/that Gilmore girl’s dad in whatever crazy teenage-girl comedies those crazy Hollywood screenwriters have been coming up with lately. He’s also become a recurring vocal talent for Pixar, with little fanfare. (See Chick Hicks in Cars or Ken in Toy Story 3.)
During the 80’s, Keaton had made a name for himself as an adept comedic star in movies such as Mr. Mom, Beetlejuice, and, one of my personal favorite quotables, Johnny Dangerously. He turned that persona on its head at the end of the decade when he donned the mantle of a decidedly darker-than-previously-seen Caped Crusader (at least, darker than was familiar to the general movie-going public) in Tim Burton’s Batman.
But only a couple months before Batman‘s release in 1989 (and, I suspect, overshadowed by that landmark film and its massive hype), Keaton appeared in a little comedy called The Dream Team.
Written by Jon Connolly & David Loucka and directed by Howard Zieff, The Dream Team is a thoroughly enjoyable character-driven comedy featuring brilliant, subtle physical humor and some of the most quotable lines ever. Michael Keaton, Christopher Lloyd, Peter Boyle, and Stephen Furst play four psychiatric patients who meet for group therapy every week.
Billy Caufield (Keaton) has a temper and enjoys concocting elaborate lies. Jack McDermott (Boyle) is a former advertising executive with a Messiah complex and a tendency to disrobe in public. Albert Ianuzzi (Furst) is verbally shut off from the rest of the world, speaking only in baseball-announcer metaphor. And Henry Sikorsky (Lloyd) is an obsessive-compulsive under the delusion that he is his fellow patients’ doctor.
Their therapist, Dr. Weitzman (Dennis Boutsikaris), decides that a day trip to Yankee Stadium would do them all a world of good. While making a pit stop in an alley in New York City, Weitzman witnesses a crime and is beaten unconscious. The only witness is Albert, who doesn’t know how to tell the others what he saw. The four are left to their own devices in the big city, eventually learning of their doctor’s fate and getting embroiled in the perpetrators’ scheme.
It sounds contrived (and as a premise for a comedy, it is), but the plot actually unfolds rather naturally. The four protagonists are so fully engaged in their characters and so interesting to watch, and have such great chemistry with each other, that it doesn’t matter how ridiculous things get (and things do get a bit ridiculous). The performances keep it grounded. These four actors know how to get the maximum amount of situational comedy out of their characters without resorting to hammy antics or breaking character for the sake of the joke (something I’ve talked about in the podcast recently regarding Dinner for Schmucks and The Other Guys).
The supporting cast is, if not memorable, at least believable and capable. Prolific character actors Philip Bosco and James Remar play a couple of heavies, and Lorraine Bracco (of Goodfellas and The Sopranos fame) plays Keaton’s character’s old girlfriend, Riley. She even manages to be sexy, an adjective I’ve never before applied to Lorraine Bracco.
The Dream Team‘s title may not be particularly germane to the plot (another possible factor in the film’s obscurity), but the tagline is great: “Four guys on a field trip to reality.” It’s a sadly forgotten little gem that more people should see, and I’d like to make a special mention and thanks to my brother Dan for introducing it to me.
(The Dream Team at the IMDb: http://imdb.com/title/tt0097235)