Screen veteran Don Ameche leads a small cast of international irregulars through ODDBALL HALL, a slow but sweet caper comedy.
Four career criminals try to get out of the remote African village where they have been living undercover, masquerading as members of "Oddball Hall," an eccentric, secret fraternal order of fez-wearing samaritans. Having eluded capture for ten years, they hope to fence their stolen jewels and
retire in Rio de Janeiro. But an unlikely string of events prevents their escape. The train which is to carry them out of town is perpetually delayed. And the real "Grand Noble Master" of the Oddball order comes to visit, eventually tipping the local constable off about the crooks.
More directly, the foursome must play out their role of benevolent "wizards" when the son of a local chieftan seeks their help in repairing his tribe's water pump. Mistaking the gentle youth for the Grand Noble Master, the Oddballs humor him until they can make their getaway. Although he plays
along with their error, the group becomes fond of him and begin to soften in their criminal ways. Meanwhile, two ex-members of their gang who served time in prison, arrive looking for their share of the jewels. They give away the Oddballs' true identity, creating a chaotic, slapstick chase as the
Master, town constable and two ex-cons pursue the gang and its adopted friend. The Oddballs manage to escape, but are unable to cash in their jewels. They do, however, repair their friend's water pump and decide to take up a happy life with the tribe.
Billed as "in the tradition of THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY," ODDBALL HALL plays on a similar premise--a bushman naif's misadventures in a town of bumbling white men--but fails to achieve much comic zip. Don Ameche (COCOON, FOLKS!) tries to pep up the slow story, but even his customary panache can't
overcome the screenplay's lack of punch. Fellow veteran Burgess Meredith (THE DAY OF THE LOCUST, ROCKY), who receives equal billing, has few lines and seems to have merely lent his name to this minor project. Other supporting players never get the chance to develop recognizable characters. A
general lack of chemistry among the ensemble cast and a hollowness to the humor both derive from the film's reliance on superficial racial and ethnic stereotyping. While Don Ameche's protagonist is so undeveloped that we don't even know his name, the characters with names are tagged by cheap-shot
monikers: the Italian sidekick is "Goose" Linguini, the "native" (supposedly a member of the "Whimmoway" tribe) is Meetoo-U.
Fortunately the overall tone of the movie is not so patronizing. Instead the story, while often muddled, makes a turn toward sweetness. The attempt at all-out, screwball, chase comedy that accelerates at the climax lacks the requisite timing and wit. But the redeeming feelings of friendship that
develop between the rehabilitated white adventurers and the African villagers come across as at least sincere. ODDBALL HALL might have had something more to recommend it if those relationships had been better developed narratively--and if its comedy had been significantly more lively. (Mildprofanity, nudity.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: PG
- Review: Screen veteran Don Ameche leads a small cast of international irregulars through ODDBALL HALL, a slow but sweet caper comedy. Four career criminals try to get out of the remote African village where they have been living undercover, masquerading as member… (more)