The Misadventures Of Mr. Wilt

  • 1989
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Comedy

The second big-screen outing for British TV comedians Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith (the first was the disastrous MORONS FROM OUTER SPACE), casts the duo from "Not the Nine O'Clock News" in a quintessentially English farce based on a novel by Tom Sharpe. Jones takes the title role, that of polytechnic lecturer Henry Wilt. As his name suggests, he's an...read more

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The second big-screen outing for British TV comedians Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith (the first was the disastrous MORONS FROM OUTER SPACE), casts the duo from "Not the Nine O'Clock News" in a quintessentially English farce based on a novel by Tom Sharpe. Jones takes the title role, that

of polytechnic lecturer Henry Wilt. As his name suggests, he's an English weed just waiting to be trampled by anyone and everyone--by his domineering wife (Steadman), by her aggressive best friend (Quick), by his bosses and colleagues, even by his students. Steadman is a class-conscious, trendy

"new woman," into karate and karma; Jones, by contrast, is resolutely unfashionable and unpretentious. While out walking the dog one night, Jones stumbles across a mugging in progress. He knocks the gun-brandishing assailant unconscious and allows the victim to escape, only to discover that the

"mugger" is in fact a police inspector (Smith) who was making a drug bust. Three weeks later: construction workers on a site near the college where Jones teaches spot what looks like a woman's body just before they cover it with cement. Investigating, policeman Smith inquires about an abandoned

car nearby. Of course it belongs to Jones, whose wife, it transpires, has disappeared. In explanation, Jones claims that he accompanied Steadman to a party at Quick's opulent mansion. There, having rejected his hostess' advances and subsequently watched her flirt with his wife, he confronted

Quick, only to wake up naked and strapped to an inflatable sex doll. Unable to free himself, he hopped into the midst of the party. Mortified, Steadman turned to Quick for comfort, and the hapless Jones left in disgrace, still tied to the doll. When his attempts to puncture it proved ineffectual

(but produced a "murder" witness), he ditched it at the construction site. Smith refuses to believe this story, and remains convinced he has unmasked a murderer--perhaps even the infamous "Swaffam Strangler"--but when the site is excavated the "corpse" is indeed a doll. Checking out Jones' story,

the police learn that not only Steadman, but also Quick and her husband, have not been seen since the night of the party. Exhausted, Jones confesses he murdered all three with a chainsaw and disposed of the bodies at a local meat packing factory. Smith swallows this blatant invention, but Jones is

released on orders from higher up, and upon returning home answers a phone call from Steadman. She tells Jones that she has been marooned for days on a boat with Quick and Quick's husband, that she escaped on a dinghy once she understood her friend's true nature, and that she is now phoning from a

country vicarage and wants Jones to pick her up. This he does, just in time to save her from the vicar--the Swaffam Strangler himself. Smith, who has tailed his suspect, bungles again, and in despair takes himself into custody on the charge of false arrest.

Since humor, like music, is a universal language, THE MISADVENTURES OF MR. WILT's failure to be funny cannot be blamed on its Englishness; if anything, the film is even more limited in its style, which is reminiscent of TV sitcoms at their most small-scale and parochial. True wit is in painfully

short supply here. Jokes like "I'm about to nab the biggest drug ring this side of Bury St. Edmonds" may make more sense to Brits than others, but still will not raise more than a titter outside of that particular town. The larger-than-life creations of Tom Sharpe's best-selling book are reduced

by the film to mean-spirited stereotypes: acquisitive Japanese entrepreneurs; lazy, stupid students; and (most offensively) Alison Steadman's nagging, foolish, Eva Wilt and Diana Quick's predatory lesbian, both of them misogynist characterizations.

The part of the dull-witted inspector Flint presents rather less than a challenge to Smith, being restricted to linguistic and logical goofs, the occasional slow burn, and plenty of egg on the face. Smith--who is physically the Hardy to Jones' Laurel--directed Jeff Goldblum and Rowan Atkinson in

THE TALL GUY, and has played a number of minor parts (both straight and comic) in feature films, most memorably the albino jailer in Rob Reiner's THE PRINCESS BRIDE. Here, in something of a vacuum, Smith plays broad--and the results are not good. Jones has more going for him as Wilt, who may be a

hapless, mumbling weakling, but is still the only likable character in the movie. He is intelligent and witty in his own quiet way, and we sympathize with his Billy Liar-type fantasies (mostly concerned with disposing of his wife), knowing that he is actually harmless. Jones fits the part to a

tee, and milks the only truly funny sequence, when he struggles, naked, with the inflatable doll in the midst of a large party. This scene is the only point at which the story's farcical elements take on a life of their own, and the only remotely "outrageous" moment in a film that manages to

anesthetize adultery, stabbings, and multiple murders. Think of what fun Pedro Almadovar might have made of this material! Instead, we get flat, gross direction by Michael Tuchner that only accentuates the script's shortcomings. In the long middle section, comprising Smith's interrogation of Jones

and flashbacks detailing the latter's story, the structure becomes complicated to the point that Smith himself pops up in Jones' narrative--for no reason, since the two of them are miles apart in the flashback. This slack and careless approach is sadly typical of MR. WILT, a movie that shows

dishearteningly few signs of having been thought through as a story at all, let alone reconceived for the cinema. (Nudity, profanity, sexual situations.)

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  • Released: 1989
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: The second big-screen outing for British TV comedians Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith (the first was the disastrous MORONS FROM OUTER SPACE), casts the duo from "Not the Nine O'Clock News" in a quintessentially English farce based on a novel by Tom Sharpe.… (more)

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