At 25: “Quick Change”

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July 13, 2015 by billysparrow

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Quick Change

Released: July 13, 1990

Starring: Bill Murray, Geena Davis, Randy Quaid, Jason Robards, Tony Shalhoub, Philip Bosco, Stanley Tucci

I’m pretty sure I’ve never witnessed a discussion about great movies starring Bill Murray (most of the movie discussions I’m involved in are strictly internal, for the good of all parties), but if I were to hear such a discussion, I’m pretty confident it would be a while before it touched on “Quick Change.” And I’m not sure why that is.

Maybe it’s because it came right in the middle of what might be the strongest five-year period of Murray’s movie career. First came “Scrooged” in 1988, followed by, I guess, the biggest disappointment of the period, “Ghostbusters II” (I am going by what I feel is the general opinion of that movie, not on my own recollection; I haven’t seen it since my initial favorable viewing at the Greenville Drive-In in the summer of 1989; I bailed on revisiting it last year because of what I’m guessing was some sort of summer apathy). Then after “Quick Change” came the indisputably great “What About Bob?” in 1991 and the similarly beloved “Groundhog Day” in 1992.

That’s a pretty good run, and maybe “Quick Change” gets unjustly lost in the shuffle. Because I still think it’s a great movie with an amazing, bordering on perfect cast that deserves a place in any discussion of Murray’s best.

First of all, this movie stars Bill Murray and Randy Quaid. Two of the funniest people ever (well, Mr. Quaid appears to have grown less funny in his recent video work) in a movie together? There’s no way that could be bad.

But wait, there’s more! Throw in Geena Davis (smack dab in the middle of her peak as well) and the always rock-steady Jason Robards (who gamely recovers from doing his level best to save “Dream A Little Dream”) to make it that much better. And then toss in Bob Elliott (from Bob and Ray) and Phil Hartman in small parts. And while you’re at it, add Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci in scene-stealing roles.

This movie should have been a way bigger hit. I blame “Ghost,” which was released on the same day and which, to be honest, I don’t feel like watching again. Yeah, I’m turning the tables on you, “Ghost.” Suck it. (To be fair, I’m sure I’d still like “Ghost,” just not as much as I like this.)

It’s hard to get too deep into the movie, or really go into any depth at all without ruining the plot for you, so if for some reason you love reading posts on obscure blogs about movies you’ve never seen, (a) get some help and (b) go watch “Quick Change” now and come back and read this later. I’m pretty sure the site’s not gonna crash from too many users, so you should be fine. I look forward to your return. It’ll be lonely here without you. Please come back. Don’t leave me for another “Quick Change” blogger.

Welcome back! I missed you! I love you! You look nice–did you do something with your hair?

Anyway, the movie is about a bank robbery pulled off by Frank Grimm (Murray), who dresses as a clown to pull off the heist in Manhattan. Grimm is tired of what Manhattan has become (always a timely viewpoint) and aims to pull off the crime with the help of his childhood friend Loomis (Quaid) and his girlfriend Phyllis (Davis). All three then plan to fly to Fiji before the police track them down. Robards plays Police Chief Rotzinger (Robards), who is similarly disgusted with Manhattan but wants one last moment of acclaim before calling it a career.

Of course, there are lots of twists and turns along the way as Grimm, Loomis, and Phyllis make their way to JFK Airport. And it is in said twists and turns that the movie really piles on the greatness. First up is Shalhoub as the foreign (no one’s sure which country he came from) cab driver who picks up the trio after their car is destroyed by the fire department in the midst of trying to gain access to a hydrant. Rarely has so much been done with so few words (and none intelligible). And there has likely never been a cab full of such talent.

Then there’s Stanley Tucci in one of his first big movie roles as Johnny, chief lookout at a mafia hangout that Grimm, Loomis, and Phyllis stumble into after the cab incident (personally, if I was in the mob, I’d lock the door to our hangout, but what do I know?).

But the best scene stealer in the movie is undoubtedly Philip Bosco as the by-the-book city bus driver (I’ve known a few). I was excited to discover that Bosco, a Tony Award winner who, sadly, I know best for his small role in “Three Men and a Baby,” was born in the very city in which I live. Score another one for Jersey City, and I’d say as much if this role was the only one he ever played. He is stupendous. (I do hate the obvious time discrepancy, though. That always bugs me in movies. How hard can it be to make that work? Just work backward from the final product and have the bus driver say the time off screen. Why are they not letting me make movies? I mean, aside from the fact that I don’t know how movies are made.)

And then Bosco’s got one more in him. I’m pretty sure I would watch a movie starring him as the bus driver. He’s 85 and appears to be retired from acting, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that movie anyway.

For the record (I can’t believe you’re still keeping that record, but I admire your thoroughness), Roger Ebert likes Bosco almost as much as I did; Siskel is less charged up about him, and the movie in general.

The ending of the movie is a little goofy, but not so goofy that it nullifies the 80 minutes that preceded it. At the very least, it’s a satisfying resolution, in that everybody you want to win wins and nobody’s really hurt. I mean, I guess the bank’s hurt, but I’m sure they’ll be fine. And no one’s rooting for Mr. Lombino, so that’s no big deal.

So, I hope the next time you find yourself in a discussion about great movies starring Bill Murray (or even great movies featuring Philip Bosco), you’ll consider throwing “Quick Change” into the proceedings. And if the person with whom you are having this discussion refuses to agree with your assessment, I believe there’s really only one way to settle it: street jousting.

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