“What’s Up, Doc?” (1972)
When a popular genre fades away and then finds a sudden revival in even a singular vehicle, it is natural to consider whether the newer incarnation brings a legitimate contribution to the genre or is merely a product of slavish nostalgic admiration? Surely such considerations are at the forefront with “critic” cum director Peter Bogdanovich’s “What’s Up, Doc?”, a contemporized version of those breathless slapstick comedies which burst onto movie screens in the mid-Thirties and all but disappeared within two decades.
Ever the relentlessly enthusiastic film buff, whose fawning idolatry of Golden Age Hollywood obviously clouds his creative judgment sufficiently for any impulse toward originality to take a backseat in favor of nostalgic imitation, in “What’s Up, Doc?”, Bogdanovich unaccountably bases his comedy on a tired Hitchocockian Macguffin rather than in a witty clash of eccentrics, with the rusty gears of tired plotting fed by wheezy gag writer schtick that becomes increasingly pedestrian as it unfolds.
In San Francisco, several unrelated characters arrive and converge at a hotel, four of them carrying matching plaid suitcases (does it make sense that a rich dowager would carry the same case as a penniless student?) that will figure in a continuous game of musical luggage which becomes not only fatiguing but pointless as multiple switches often occur without anyone being aware nor with there being any consequence, so what exactly is the point except to distract from the central characters and the realization that there really isn’t any story constructed about them? The screenplay by Buck Henry, Robert Benton and David Newman (the latter two losing every bit of their “Bonnie and Clyde” strutting rights after “Oh! Calcutta!”), based on a story by Bogdanovich (which from the pastiche nature of the film suggests the scenario might have been based on viewing notes of better directors’ movies, though not necessarily the better parts of those films) doesn’t allow for a continuous flow of comic dynamism nor a believable romantic tension to emerge between the principles when the various scrambled travel bags are afforded far more priority screen time.
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