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Nothing fishy here: "A Fish Called Wanda" is still tons of fun


Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Otto (Kevin Kline) confront George (Tom Georgeson) after his arrest. (Frame shots courtesy of Arrow Video)


Blu-ray; 1988; R for brief nudity, sexuality, mild violence, language; Streaming Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Best extra: "Laughing and not Laughing at 'A Fish Called Wanda,'" an essay by journalist and editor Sophie Monks Kaufman

GIVE SOPHIE Monks Kaufman her due.

Unlike most essayists who contribute to new releases, she dismisses what Thumper said in "Bambi' -- "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all" -- and drops a bomb that's going to blindside fans of this wicked comedy: "A Fish Called Wanda" is -- Are you sitting down? -- homophobic.

Her argument is based on an exchange between the psychotic Otto (Oscar-winner Kevin Kline) and the stammering, animal-friendly hit man Ken (Michael Palin), who knows where the diamonds they've stolen are stashed and won't say where. Their heated back-and-forth, Monks writes, spoils what until then had been "a joy untrammelled."

She's wrong on both counts. "Wanda" isn't homophobic and it's a joy from start to finish, but, again, give her points for sticking to her guns.

The late Roger Ebert put it out there, too.

Ken (Michael Palin) is desperately in love with a tank of tropical fish.

After the heist Wanda and Otto split up from George.

British barrister Archie Leach (John Cleese) at home with his wife.

"One of its strengths is its mean-spiritedness," he wrote in 1988. "Hollywood may be able to make movies about mean people … but only in England are the sins of vanity, greed and lust treated with the comic richness they deserve." On the funny scale, he had "Wanda" up there with "The Producers" (1967), "This Is Spinal Tap" and the first Inspector Clouseau movies.

So there you go.

For those who came in late: A quartet of jewel thieves -- two Americans, Otto and Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and two Brits, Ken and George (Tom Georgeson) -- steal a haul of diamonds, only the Yanks intend to double-cross George by having him arrested then high-tailing it out of the country. Wanda is then going to stick it to Otto, who she tells her partners is her brother but is really her latest lover. John Cleese is Archie Leach (gotta love it), the weak-willed barrister in the middle of it. He's soon taken by Wanda's charms.

In addition to Kline's Oscar win, "Wanda" was nominated for its screenplay -- Cleese spent several years on it before he was satisfied that U.S. audiences would take to it -- and direction. It was the last film helmed by Charles Crichton, the Ealing Studios veteran whose many comedies included "The Lavender Hill Mob." For the record, Curtis, Cleese and Palin are splendid.

Arrow Video, as is its wont, has taken no short cuts. The film's been remastered in 4K from the original camera negative, and though you want to say that it looks fantastic, that's just not the case. While colors are true and better-saturated and the print is spotless, "Wanda," as is the case with a lot of films made in the 1980s, is sometimes soft and grainy and detail is only marginally better.

Don't let that stop you. The audio is more immersive this time and, best of all, Arrow has supplemented "Wanda" with a plethora of extras.

Cleese's thoughtful commentary; the insightful two-part documentary "John Cleese's Farewell Performance"; a 15th-anniversary retrospective; deleted/alternative scenes (with Cleese intros), and an image gallery were picked up from earlier releases. New to this one are interviews with British Film Institute archivist Vic Pratt and production designer Roger Murray-Leach.

- Craig Shapiro




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