Combustible Celluloid
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With: Steve Martin, Victoria Tennant, Richard E. Grant, Marilu Henner, Sarah Jessica Parker, Susan Forristal, Kevin Pollak, Sam McMurray, Patrick Stewart, Iman, Frances Fisher, George Plimpton, Woody Harrelson, Chevy Chase, Rick Moranis, Terry Jones (voice)
Written by: Steve Martin
Directed by: Mick Jackson
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 95
Date: 02/08/1991

L.A. Story (1991)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Sign Language

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When L.A. Story was first released, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert reviewed it on their TV show, with Siskel awarding it a "thumbs down," and Ebert going not only with a "thumbs up," but with a full four-star rating in his newspaper review. The weird thing is that they're both right. As one of Martin's original screenplays, it's a clear representation of his loves and his particular comic genius. But at the same time, it only works very sporadically, and works even less well today — 30 years later — than it did when it was new. The funny bits seem to occur in-between the story, rather than because of it.

Martin plays wacky TV weatherman Harris K. Telemacher, and the joke is that the weather is always the same in Los Angeles. One weekend, in order to go out of town, he pre-tapes the weather report (and, of course, it rains). He's unhappily dating Trudi (Marilu Henner), and when he spots British reporter Sara (Victoria Tennant), he's thrilled to discover that Trudi is cheating on him. When he finds that Sara is here to visit her ex-husband (Richard E. Grant), he has a side dalliance with store clerk SanDeE* (Sarah Jessica Parker). A magic traffic sign gives him clues as to what he's supposed to do.

Parker is a standout, constantly dancing and twirling and enjoying her sensuousness; she's confident in her body, and it makes her adorable. Tennant, who was married to Martin at the time, is dull by comparison. As the characters navigate their romance, there are jokes about (not) walking in L.A., trying to get into snooty restaurants (Patrick Stewart plays a particularly snappish Maitre D'), and a particularly eyebrow-raising joke about freeway shootings. All in all, L.A. Story hits enough to make it worth a viewing, especially for Martin fans, but it's a far cry from his more funnier, and more poignant outings.

Lionsgate released the film on Blu-ray in 2021 for, believe it or not, the first time ever. Picture and sound quality are decent. There's an interesting new interview with director Mick Jackson, and some vintage featurettes, trailers, and an EPK. The most revealing extra is 20 minutes worth of outtakes, which shows how the film might have originally been conceived and shaped; it includes several scenes of John Lithgow as a high-powered agent who travels by jet-pack, and Scott Bakula as a boxer whose story is seemingly more dramatic than Harris's.

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