By 1983, Dan Aykroyd had established himself as one of the most bankable team players in show business. Surround him with funny people and he could not only hold his own, but he could shine. The year 1983 should have been no different as he partnered with Eddie Murphy for the hugely successful Trading Places. Sadly, 1983 would be slightly different. Said difference is Doctor Detroit.
In his first film since the passing of his good friend and comedic partner John Belushi, Aykroyd is surrounded by capable character actors. Unfortunately, there is no other strong comedic presence in the film, and thus Aykroyd is called upon to carry the comedy on his own with a script that fails to truly allow him to stretch his comedic muscles.
Aykroyd plays Professor Clifford Skridlow, a mild-mannered, nerdish teacher at a small Chicago college, who gets duped into handling four prostitutes (Donna Dixon, Fran Drescher, Lynn Whitfield, and Lydia Lei) by a local pimp (an underutilized Howard Hessman). Surrounded by the local criminal element, Clifford is clearly out of his depth and thus becomes the more menacing and disturbing Dr. Detroit. The premise here is not bad, it is the execution that lets Akyroyd down. The characters in the film are underdeveloped, and the script relies on tired gags, such as Clifford and Dr. Detroit needing to be in the same place at the same time. We’ve seen this bit in every situation comedy for the last 75 years.
Perhaps if Aykroyd had the opportunity to portray more characters in the film, which has worked for other comedic actors, this might have been a more enjoyable visit to the doctor. Unfortunately, all we get is too much of the underdeveloped Clifford, not enough of the Doctor, and a brief appearance of a southern lawyer.
Howard Hessman and Fran Drescher have strong comedic chops, yet both are wasted in these roles. TK Carter and Donna Dixon are good sitcom actors, but only Carter gets to make an attempt at comedy here, but the script leaves him chewing scenery.
The Blu-ray hits shelves on April 24 with Shout Factory giving us a minimal amount of new bonus material. The interview with director Michael Pressman is both informative and entertaining, but ultimately reveals the fact that he does not seem to be aware of why the movie does not work.
Recommendation: The doctor is out.
Watching Doctor Detroit is like sitting in the waiting room for a few hours only to find out that your HMO doesn’t cover the visit. Very disappointing.