March 7, 2013

Johnny Dangerously (1984)
Starring Michael Keaton, Marilu Henner, and Joe Piscopo

Comments:   Okay now we're talking.  It took all the restraint in the world, it took a near Herculean effort on my part, but I managed to go all the way until March before I wrote about Johnny Dangerously.  And that is pretty amazing, considering that Johnny Dangerously is one of the main reasons I created this list in the first place.  In fact, Johnny Dangerously is the only movie I can think of that can legitimately challenge Top Secret for the title of "The Movie That Mario Has Seen More Times Than Any Other Movie."

No more blue balls.  The conqueror has arrived.

Yes, if there were two movies that played on an endless loop in the Lanza basement when I was a kid, they were Johnny Dangerously and Top Secret.  My brother and I LOVED these movies.  We watched them over and over and over.  And what was great was that our parents didn't even care if we watched them over and over and over, because nether one was rated R.  And they weren't as overtly dirty as something like Beverly Hills Cop or Revenge of the Nerds.

Of course Johnny Dangerously and Top Secret were both HARD PGs.  In fact, in Johnny Dangerously's case it was actually one of the first PG-13 movies in movie history.  Top Secret would have also been a PG-13 if that rating had actually existed at the time.  But hey, it didn't, and neither movie wound up actually being rated R.  So they were both allowed in our house.

And my brother and I just rewatched them endlessly.

Quick, turn the channel.  Don't let mom see this part.

If you have never seen it before, Johnny Dangerously is a parody of a 1940's gangster movie.  It stars Michael Keaton as an Irish nightclub owner named Johnny Kelly.  Who, because his mother is ill and because she needs money for an operation, is forced to join the local mob and become a lawbreaker.  And that's how Johnny Kelly, legitimate nightclub owner by day, becomes Johnny Dangerously, notorious gangster at night.

Grownup Johnny with teenage Johnny

Now first off, I will admit that I have always been a big fan of Michael Keaton.  And I have always been a big fan of Michael Keaton movies.  I loved him in Mr. Mom, I loved him in Night Shift, I loved him in The Dream Team, he is funny in anything that he has ever done.  And yes I will probably write about all three of those movies later this year on the countdown.  

But Johnny Dangerously?  Well Johnny Dangerously was his masterpiece.

NO ONE could have been Johnny Dangerously but Michael Keaton.  From the look, to the walk, to the way he raises his eyebrows.  To the swagger.  Michael Keaton was absolutely PERFECT for this role.  

I mean, people forget this, but at one time in the mid 80's Michael Keaton was considered a bigger comedic star with more potential than Tom Hanks.  It's true, look it up.  Tom Hanks and Michael Keaton were nearly always competing for the same types of roles in the 80's.  And Keaton would usually get them because he was the funnier one and was considered the better actor.  Again, people forget this, but you watch Johnny Dangerously and you are reminded of how freaking funny he was.  It is amazing that he just sort of dropped off the earth so fast once we got to the 90's.

Now here is the thing.  A LOT of people who grew up in the 80's love Johnny Dangerously.  This is one of those movies that almost always shows up on lists like "Favorite Guilty Pleasure Movies."  Or "Most Underrated Comedies."  In fact it gets mentioned as underrated so often that I almost feel bad still calling it underrated.  Because there are so many people out there these days who love it and who will stick up for it.

However, I do have to point this next part out.  Because it is important in understanding the legacy of Johnny Dangerously.

Much like this gif, Johnny Dangerously was a huge bomb.

Yes this movie was a flop.  It was a huge stinky flop at the box office.  No one went to see it.   No one gave a shit about it.  Because, seriously, in 1984, who gave a crap about 1940's gangster movies?  What sort of audience did this movie think it was going to attract?  I mean, if you are familiar with Johnny Dangerously at all, just look at it on paper and try to figure out what audience this movie was trying to go for.

It is a parody of gangster movies from the 1940's.  Uh, strike one.  Yeah I'm sure that was the prime demographic for movies in the 80's.  We need to get all the seventy year olds to come out to the theater.

It is a wacky spoof comedy in the tradition of Airplane!  Yeah, again strike two.  I'm sure that is the type of movie that older people who grew up on gangster movies are going to love.  Please, more movies with sight gags and pun humor and boob jokes.

It is a light innocent PG-ish comedy that isn't particularly edgy and was marketed towards kids.  Yeah, I'm sure when I was 10 this was the exact kind of movie I wanted to watch.  Yay, more gangster movies!  More movies about the Irish Mob!  Yes I would certainly like to see Johnny Dangerously over something like The Goonies.

A classic Airplane!-style sight gag.  The year "1935" shows up on screen and then a car runs over it

So yes, Johnny Dangerously was a HUGE flop when it originally came out.  It was one of the biggest flops of the 80's.  In fact, to this day you will still hear people say things like "Ha, lol at Joe Piscopo's movie career!"  When they say that they are usually talking about Johnny Dangerously.  

Joe Piscopo

I would love to say that I was one of the few brave people who actually saw Johnny Dangerously in a movie theater.  I would love to say that but, alas, I can't.  I was like everyone else who thought it looked dumb and who ignored it when it originally came out.  I didn't see it at all until a couple of months later when it came out on video.

And that was when my transition into being a Johnny Dangerously devotee began.

The first time I ever saw Johnny Dangerously was in Port Angeles, Washington, of all places.  I was spending the night at my grandfather's house one weekend, and there was a kid who lived next door to my grandfather who watched a lot of movies.  And one day he invited me over to his house to show me this new video that he had just rented.  He said it was called Johnny Dangerously.

Oh please.  I don't want to see Johnny Dangerously, I said.  It looks stupid.

No, you gotta see it, Tim promised me.  I swear, it will make you laugh.

So Tim invited me over and he showed me the "Your Testicles And You" part.   Then he showed me Joe Piscopo as Danny Vermin.  Then he showed me the nightclub robbery and the "no more nodding" gag.  Then he saved the best for last, he showed me the gangster who lacks the basic English ability to swear, Roman Troy Moronie.

I remember seeing Roman Moronie for the first time and I just about died.  I had Tim rewind it so I could watch it again.  Then I went back and told my mom that when we got home we needed to rent a movie called Johnny Dangerously.

"Is it PG?" she asked.

"Well there's a guy in it who tries to swear but he can't.  So it is basically PG."

And that's how Johnny Dangerously became one of the first VHS tapes I ever owned.

There is NO way to talk about Johnny Dangerously without talking about the man above, Roman Troy Moronie.  Hands down, one of the ten funniest movie characters ever.  In fact even people who have never seen Johnny Dangerously tend to know about Roman Moronie.  You mention this movie to anyone and that is usually the first thing they say.

"Oh, the movie with the guy who can't pronounce swear words?"

Yes, Roman Moronie is the foul mouthed leader of the rival Moronie Gang.  He is the sworn enemy of Johnny Dangerously.  He has a temper.  He swears a lot.  In fact, practically every other word he says in the movie is a swear word.

But since Moronie is foreign... and since he has a thick accent... well... the words generally don't come out right.  So they technically -aren't- swear words.

And that is what makes him such a memorable character.

It is also what allowed Johnny Dangerously to keep that PG-13 rating.

Say your prayers, corksoaker

You and the rest of your bastages can gamble.  But don't try no funny stuff, or I rip you bells off and I put em in a sling

It's funny enough that Moronie can't pronounce basic swear words.  But what makes it even funnier is that he is always so pissed off all the time.  Half the movie is Moronie screaming and cursing and ranting around like a mad man, and he always has the angriest look on his face.  But every other word that comes out of his mouth is something ridiculous like "bastage" or "ice hole" or "corksoaker."

Like I said, hands down, one of the ten funniest movie characters of all time.  Even if you don't like movies like Johnny Dangerously, you gotta see it at least once just to experience Roman Moronie.  I guarantee it will be worth it.

I gonna crush your boils in a meat grinder!  I gonna rip you arms off, I gonna shove em up you ice hole!

Okay, so right there, Johnny Dangerously already has one of the best secondary characters in movie history.  It has Roman Moronie.  And that is on top of the fact that the movie already stars one of the best comedic actors of the 80's, Michael Keaton.

Oh and then, hey, why don't we just throw in ANOTHER one of the best secondary characters in movie history.

That's right.  Not only does this movie have Roman Moronie.  It also has Joe Piscopo as Danny Vermin.

And this is the magic of Johnny Dangerously.  

If Danny Vermin had been in ANY other movie, he is the only character that you would have remembered.  Seriously, put Danny Vermin in Airplane and he would have been the character that you remember.  Put Danny Vermin in The Naked Gun and he would have been the standout.  Put Danny Vermin in ANY other 80's comedy and he would have gone down in history as one of the best comedy characters of the 80's.  

But in Johnny Dangerously you only half remember him.  

Because he gets overshadowed by Roman Moronie.

You shouldn't hang me on a hook, Johnny.  

You know, I have to admit this.  The fact that Joe Piscopo has sort of become a punchline in recent years is something that has always bothered me.  Because he fricking kills in Johnny Dangerously.  He steals every single scene he is in.  He manages to somehow overshadow Michael Keaton, and that is nearly impossible to do.  NOBODY can steal a scene out from under Michael Keaton.  But Roman Moronie does it in Johnny Dangerously, and Joe Piscopo does it a ton in Johnny Dangerously.

I should also point out that Joe Piscopo was fantastic on Saturday Night Live, and that Eddie Murphy wasn't the only great SNL castmember of the early 80's.  Joe Piscopo was always right there beside him.

I mean, come on, people.  Let's give the guy a little credit.  He has never been the joke that people think he is.

Joe Piscopo is awesome

Okay I have rambled on enough.  Let's just say that I love Johnny Dangerously, and that I have loved it and quoted it for years.  It was a Mario favorite in the 80's, it was a Mario favorite in the 90's, and even today I still try to rewatch it every year or so.  Even thirty years later, it is still one of my top ten favorite comedies.  I mean, you want to talk about quirky and bizarre and quotable, good luck beating this one.  Even the throwaway lines in Johnny Dangerously are memorable.

Thirty years later, I can say "no more nodding!" or "180 hats, that's a lotta hats" to my brother and it will still make him laugh.  And I know it's not the most politically correct joke in the world, but the line that follows "But Ma, it's Prohibition!" has always killed me.  And The McCoy Act of 1909 still makes me laugh to this day.  Seriously, all I have to do is see old newsreel footage of immigrants in America walking around in the 1900s and I will always think of The McCoy Act.  Whoever wrote that joke into the movie was genius.

And I am not even mentioning the dozens of other things that always make me laugh in Johnny Dangerously.  Like the angry Irish cleaning woman, the Latin gag when Johnny is walking down death row, Tommy coloring Oliver Wendell Holmes purple, the Skipper from Gilligan's Island.  Or Ma Kelly.  We can't forget about Ma Kelly.  I mean, my goodness, she is nearly as much of a scene stealer as Roman Moronie or Danny Vermin.

This one's Tommy.  He's got his father's eyes.  Hand me a pen.

All in all, Johnny Dangerously has long been one of my favorite movies and there is a good reason it became a cult favorite.  This is one hilarious quirky little comedy.  Yes, it was a bomb when it originally came out, but a lot of the most popular comedies ever were bombs when they originally came out.  I mean, nobody watched The Big Lebowski when it originally came out either.  And that is pretty good company to be in.

Johnny Dangerously was never the best comedy of the 80's.  And it was definitely never the biggest hit.  But it is a movie that developed a solid little fan base over the years, and it is easy to see why.  Because the key to any great comedy is its replayability.  To me, a comedy movie's legacy should be determined based on how many times you can watch it before you finally get tired of it.  

Well here is the thing.  I have seen Johnny Dangerously literally hundreds of times in my life.  Hundreds.  And I have yet to get tired of it.  I watch it every time, even thirty years later, and I still laugh at it.  And what is funny is that as good as Michael Keaton is, as funny as he is, he is actually THE STRAIGHT MAN IN IT.  Here you have one of the funniest actors of the 80's, here you have the scene stealer to end all scene stealers, and most of the movie he plays second banana to a bunch of secondary characters who are even funnier than he is.

Johnny Dangerously is one of those comedies that needs to be treasured.

Did you read the note?  It says "Dear Bastages..."

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about Johnny Dangerously:

Roman Troy Moronie - 22 February 2005
"Roman Troy Moronie" is my comment on the movie. What else is there to say?

This character really brings out the moron in Moronie. A tough gangster with an inability to pronounce profane words, well, it seems that it would have been frustrating to be tough and yet not be able to express oneself intelligently.

Roman Moronie will go down in the annals of movie history as one of the greatest of all morons.

There is of course great comedy among the other characters. Michael Keaton is F.A.H. and so is Joe Piscopo.

I just like the fact that Moronie kept the movie from an "R" rating because he could not pronounce profanity.

johnny dangerously quote - 6 January 2007
Even though this movie is quite old, no matter how many times I watch it, it still makes me laugh.

One particular quote in the movie stands out.

When Danny (Joe Piscopo) pulls up to the d.a's office & parks in a disabled spot, Danny's partner says, "you can't park here, it's for the handicapped".

Danny replies "I am handicapped, I'm psychotic."

That is one of the many lines in the movie that no matter how many times you watch, it'll make you chuckle.

Johnny Dangerously stands in my top 5 comedy/spoof movies of all time.

Never has something so corny been so entertaining! - 12 February 2003
The jokes are obvious, the gags are corny, and the characters are walking caricatures - but I couldn't stop from laughing at his highly entertaining movie. No matter how many times I see it, I still get a kick out of this one, and I recommend it highly for all lovers of mindless entertainment. It contains many quotable moments, and some of the best sight-gags I've seen to this day. If you've had a bad week and you need a chuckle, rent this one on your way home Friday night to give your weekend a good start.

"Hmm... Johnny's getting laid!" - 28 April 2004
Hilarious, underrated gangster spoof about an essentially good hearted boy who grows up to be Johnny Dangerously (Michael Keaton), AKA: Johnny Kelly who uses his ill gotten gains to support his family - his ailing mom and send his little brother to law school, of all places. Things get sticky though when an old foe (Joe Piscopo) comes after Johnny and his girlfriend (Marilu Henner) and Johnny's own brother tries to come after him as part of his mission to clean up the city.

Lots of great gags, like Johnny advising kids to chew gum instead of smoking, Johnny's jail house striped suit, the running gag of Joe Piscopo's character saying that certain members of his family did something to him "once... ONCE.", the running gag of Johnny's brother being unable to resist the temptation of sex, and of course, the fireworks that go off whenever Johnny gets laid.

I Never Get Tired of This film! - 24 September 2003
I have watched Johnny Dangerously more times than I can count. Aside from loving Michael Keaton's work, this film stands out as one of the funniest I have ever seen. "Johnny's" personality and swagger are delightful to begin with, and the comedy lines produce laughter with tears in the eyes. My kids told me about this picture first, and I am indebted to them. Whether he's doing comedy or drama, Michael Keaton has my heart.

Hey, How about me getting' knocked out? - 18 May 2008
As far as parody films go, there are few that are worth time and energy. but with a recent resurgence of horrid parodies such as Date Movie and The Comebacks, it is a breath of fresh air to come back and rediscover a truly funny farce like Johnny Dangerously.

After his mother has no end of medical problems, little Johnny goes to work for the mob. What fallows is a series of gags, most of which work, there are, however, the occasional flops. But a foreign gangster who can't master the American language (profanity wise, at least), a rival gangster with a penchant for shooting his mouth off (...once!), a younger brother with the D.A. who is out to get Johhny Dangerously, and a hot young starlet hot for his affections have Johnny busy.

And the viewer will be busy laughing, for the most part, as every gangster-movie cliché is skewered by a talented cast and decent writing.

Not perfect by a long shot, but definitely good for a smile on a bad day.

One of the funniest movies I've ever seen - 13 March 2006
Although critically maligned, Johnny Dangerously is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. It's a movie that should be watched closely; some of the funny bits are done in passing and do not have the usual amount of attention drawn to them. For instance, keep an eye on Michael Keaton's use of the pricing gun at the pet store...and also on the documentary-style years that appear at the beginning of scenes. It's one of those rare movies where the humor hits you unexpectedly, even though you know it's a comedy. Amy Heckerling, the director, is really sharp here--If you enjoyed her better known films (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless, European Vacation, etc.,) you should give this one a look.

Michael Keaton is extremely likable in the title role and the supporting cast (Griffin Dunne, Maureen Stapleton, Joe Piscopo, Peter Boyle) is excellent. Highly recommended.

C'mon, this is cute AND funny. - 9 October 2001
All of those who voted less than 5 are obviously not fans of clean, tongue-in-cheek humor. Keaton is brilliant in this - as in most of his work. This is not a blockbuster, bigger-than-life affair. This is campy, slapstick humor played out by some of Hollywood's best (and very versatile) actors. Piscopo was equally on the mark as the top dog wannabee, once.

If you want to see the funniest attempt at not really cussing ever filmed, you gotta see Dimitri do his piece as Moronie.

* My favorite quotes from Johnny Dangerously:
(get ready, I got a ton of 'em)

Ma Kelly: The Lower East Side. This really sucks.

Johnny Dangerously: The name's Dangerously. Johnny Dangerously.
Lil: Did you know your last name's an adverb?

Roman Moronie: I would like to direct this to the distinguished members of the panel: You lousy cork-soakers. You have violated my farging rights. Dis somanumbatching country was founded so that the liberties of common patriotic citizens like me could not be taken away by a bunch of fargin iceholes... like yourselves.

Danny Vermin: I got something to stop him.
Dutch: They made it for him special. It's an eighty-eight Magnum.
Danny Vermin: It shoots through schools.

Johnny Dangerously: Commissioner, there's all the evidence against me, just like I promised you. Use it. I'm ready to pay my debt.
[No response from Commissioner]
Johnny Dangerously: Hey, how about a thank you?
[Johnny notices that the Commissioner is dead]
Johnny Dangerously: Hey, how about me getting out of here?
[Johnny turns to leave but is hit on the head]
Johnny Dangerously: Hey, how about me getting knocked out?
[He falls]

Ma Kelly: Bless the saints, it's an ashtray! I've been thinking of taking up smoking. This clinches it!

Ma Kelly: You've gotten to be like a daughter to me and I wanna share somethin' with ya.
Lil: Awww, what's that Mom Kelley?
Ma Kelly: I go both ways.
Lil: Oh.

Roman Moronie: This is fargin war!

Ma Kelly: Open up! It's Ma Kelly!
Mary-Margaret Catharine Dineen: [opens her door] What do you want? Get out of here.
Ma Kelly: I got to talk to you.
Mary-Margaret Catharine Dineen: We don't have nothing to say to each other.
Ma Kelly: We got plenty to say to each other. We got a lot in common.
Mary-Margaret Catharine Dineen: Yeah, what?
Ma Kelly: We both scrub floors. We're both swell lookers. And neither one of us is Chinese.

Johnny Dangerously: The years hadn't softened Moronie. He continued to murder the English language, and anyone who got in his way.

Lil: Get this to Johnny on the grapevine. Vermin is going to kill Johnny's brother at the savoy theater tomorrow night. Got it?
Polly the parrot: Got it.
[flies away]
Polly the parrot: [arrives at prison mess hall and lands on the shoulder of a prisoner] Vermin is going to kill Johnny's brother at the Savoy theater. Pass it on.
Prisoner: [to the next prisoner sitting next to him] Vermin is going to kill Johnny's brother at the Savoy theater tonight. Pass it on.
Prisoner: [to the next prisoner, "telephone" style] Vermin is going to kill Johnny's mother at the Savoy theater tonight. Pass it on.
Prisoner: [to the next prisoner] Vermin's mother is going to kill Johnny tonight at the Savoy theater. Pass it on.
Prisoner: [to the next prisoner] [unintelligible]  ... at the Savoy. Pass it on.
Prisoner: There's a message through the grapevine, Johnny.
Johnny Dangerously: Yeah? What is it?
Prisoner: Johnny and the Mothers are playing "Stompin' at the Savoy" in Vermont tonight.
Johnny Dangerously: Vermin's going to kill my brother at the Savoy theater tonight?!
Prisoner: I didn't say that.
Johnny Dangerously: No, but I know this grapevine.

[Ma Kelly is pouring drinks for everybody]
Tommy Kelly: Mom, it's prohibition!
Ma Kelly: Oh, shut up! Stop acting like some fag choir boy!

Chorus Girl: I'm not wearing a bra, Johnny.
Johnny Dangerously: Yeah? Well that makes two of us.

Ma Kelly: With a father like "Killer" Kelly, it's a wonder neither of you turned out to be a piece 'o shit criminal!

[Johnny sees a steaming pot on the stove]
Johnny Dangerously: Whatcha cookin' here ma?
Ma Kelly: Beer.
Johnny Dangerously: With noodles! Great idea!

[In the middle of a trial]
Tommy Kelly: Roman Troy Moronie was responsible for: the Mother's Day Massacre, The Christmas Day Slaughter, The Lincoln's Birthday Mutilations, and The Groundhog Day Beheadings!

Danny Vermin: You shouldn't hang me on a hook, Johnny. My father hung me on a hook once. Once!

[Leaving a crime scene with his sidekick, Dutch]
Danny Vermin: Hey doll, how'd you like to make some money?
Mary-Margaret Catharine Dineen: One at a time, or both of you together?

Tommy Kelly: Oh God! How do you get laid in 1930?

Jocko Dundee: How's tricks, Moronie?
Roman Moronie: What are you doing here, icehole?
Jocko Dundee: Hey, can't a fellow enjoy a night out gambling with some of his pals?
Roman Moronie: Don't bullshtein me.
[to one of his men]
Roman Moronie: Search this somanabatch.

Johnny Dangerously: Alright here it is. Johnny Dangerously is goin' legit.
Member of Dundee's gang: Le-what?
Johnny Dangerously: Legit.
Charley: Le-why?
Danny Vermin: I'll tell you le-why. Because Johnny Dangerously is really Johnny Kelly, brother of the D.A., Tommy Kelly.  

Johnny Dangerously: [narrating in a flashback] Times were good in America. There was plenty of everything: jobs, security, laughs. America was in great shape, except for the President, William Howard Taft. Was *he* a porker. At 310 lbs. he weighed as much as Teddy Roosevelt and half of William McKinley. Immigrants poured into the country from all over the world looking for a better life for their children. And over 97% of them settled into a 2-block area of New York City.

* My favorite scene in Johnny Dangerously:

 Oh don't ask me this.  Picking my favorite scene in Johnny Dangerously is like asking me to pick my favorite child.  

Johnny Dangerously at the IMDB

Johnny Dangerously at Wikipedia

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