A Fish Called Wanda ★★★½

What is there to say about one of the funniest movies ever made? John Cleese and Charles Crichton have combined forces to create a riotously funny crime comedy about a group of criminals who are filled with bad luck and bad ideas. It takes a little long to establish the characters upon the opening, but I loved how quickly it got to the point with the robbery taking place within the first ten minutes. The laughs didn't really get started for me until twenty or thirty minutes in, but once they did they did not let up. The plot concerns four unique people who team up in England to rob some diamonds and then spend the rest of the film trying to stab each other in the back, get the loot and get away.

Jamie Lee Curtis leads the foursome as the minx Wanda Gershwitz, along with Tom Georgeson's Georges Thomason. Coming in on them are the stuttering lackey Ken Pile, played by Michael Palin, and the Nietzsche-reading buffoon Otto, played by Kevin Kline. Thomason gets pinched early on, one of the first of many double-crosses, and so the film concerns itself mostly with Otto and Wanda trying to find the diamonds while making sure that Thomason stays behind bars and doesn't give them up. To do this, Wanda gets herself close to Archie Leach (John Cleese), a lawyer who has been tasked with clearing Thomason's name.

A Fish Called Wanda flies around wildly, yet somehow Cleese and Crichton are able to give it this rhythm that flows so well. It never gets too far ahead of itself but it doesn't drag for a single moment either. This is the rare pure comedy that is wickedly funny while also being incredibly intelligent in it's writing and directing. A lot of comedies act as if the audience has a short attention span and so they try to cram as many jokes as possible in the first hour and then leave the audience yawning through the final act. Here though they know that the audience wants to laugh more as times goes on and they spend their time building jokes that will pay off even stronger in the later scenes.

There are so many recurring bits, like Otto's blind rage over being called stupid or Ken's inability to murder an old lady, that only get more and more hilarious as they go on. Somehow these jokes never feel like they're hitting the audience over the head or being used too much, but instead just get better and better. The cast is certainly worth noting, as all four of the main characters provide great ingredients for the laughs. Cleese is the perfect straight man for the wild antics of the rest, Curtis is whip smart and an alluring sex kitten, Palin is so damn likeable that you just want to make all of his bad luck go away and Kevin Kline steals the show completely.

Kline takes on Otto with a skill that is almost unmatched in comedic cinema. This is a guy who is always the stupidest person in the room but always thinks that he is the smartest by far. He puts himself on a pedestal and it could have been a role that was done with disastrous results, but Kline takes his craft so seriously that Otto never feels like he's in on the joke that the audience is. This is an actor who has made a career out of mixing comedy and drama, and here is the highlight of his work in the former field. It takes a little bit to get going, but once it does this is easily one of the most delightfully hilarious films I've ever seen and Kline got me laughing harder than I have with a film in a long while. In Denmark a man died while seeing this film in theaters because he literally laughed himself to death. It's easy to see why.