Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Princess Bride part of director's reign

Oh, Rob Reiner. What went wrong?

You had a fantastic decade-long run as director starting with the brilliant mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap, in 1984.

A string of great films followed including The Sure Thing (1985), Stand By Me (1986), When Harry Met Sally (1989) and ending with The American President (1995). You keep making films (The Story of Us, Alex and Emma), but the buzz pretty much disappeared. Where did that extra something that made your early efforts so good go?

The Princess Bride, released in 1987, was part of his admirable string of hits.

Watching it again 23 years after its original release, this fairy tale with a wry twist resembles more a series of set pieces than a free-flowing film. That's still OK. There's enough here for a fun night's viewing.

Westley (Cary Elwes) and Buttercup (Robin Wright) fall in love. Tragedy supposedly claims Westley. Years pass.

Buttercup ends up with Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). The last syllable of the surname is fitting. We never really learn why she ends up as his potential much-better half.

The bad prince is more interested in starting his plans for world domination than providing Buttercup with a loving home. He has more dastardly schemes that will make her reign a very, very short one.

Westley returns. He encounters ne'er-do-wells Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), Fezzik (Andre the Giant) and Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin). Challenges ensue with a constant stream of witty banter exchanged. Not all of it works, but when it does there's some big laughs to enjoy.

Westley reunites with Buttercup. Prince Humperdinck wants him dead. Watch for a very effective, and surprisingly good, turn by Christopher Guest as the prince's henchman, Count Rugen. His cool, calm delivery as he does numerous nasty deeds is a treat. He even gets a big laugh near the film's climax.

The Princess Bride introduced Wright in her first major acting role. Billy Crystal, who had a small role in Spinal Tap, shines brilliantly in a 'special appearance' as Miracle Max.

In a new documentary included with a DVD release, Crystal describes how he wanted his character to look like a cross between his grandmother and baseball legend Casey Stengel.

Carol Kane, as Max's wife Valerie, gets one of the film's best lines: "I'm not a witch. I'm your wife."

Shot in England and Ireland, The Princess Bride mostly passes for family fare except for some violence and some disturbingly large-sized rats. Oh, the numerous kisses Westley and Buttercup exchange may nauseate some younger male viewers.

Rob Reiner, please come back to the fun-filled movie-making kingdom. We miss you.

Rating: 7.5/10

The Princess Bride. 1987. 99 minutes. Director Rob Reiner. Starring: Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Fred Savage, Peter Falk, Robin Wright.

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