Me and Him
True film connoisseurs are eminently familiar with the later works of director Bob Clark, when he took a right turn from his popular early horror and exploitation titles like Black Christmas and Porky’s and chose to follow in the footsteps of his classic A Christmas Story by exclusively exploring the younger market. His most notable efforts include Baby Geniuses and its sequel, Superbabies, but his venture into true magical realism with Karate Dog was where he truly found his way. Karate Dog has other things on its mind than the titular character such as delving into international espionage involving dangerous chemicals and a deeply detailed murder mystery, but clearly its most important element is that of the Karate Dog’s voicing by famed actor Chevy Chase. Mr. Chase throws out such a non-stop array of wisecracks and witticisms (further enhanced by coming from the mouth of a dog/martial arts expert), that one wonders where the inspiration for such an insightful and devastating canine cultural critic came from.
The obvious answer would be Amy Heckerling’s Look Who’s Talking, where Bruce Willis voiced an infant, but one shouldn’t forget the possibility of it being the French horror-comedy Baxter, which featured a vengeful, jealous bull-terrier who mused aloud to the audience. But no, that likely would be wrong, as both were trumped in terms of chronology by German director Doris Dörrie’s Me and Him, making her English language debut with a remake of an Italian film about a man whose penis starts talking to him. The joke is obvious (“of course men’s penises talk to them!”), but, and it proves to be one of many distractions, the penis is voiced by Perfect Strangers star, the nebbishy Marc-Linn Baker (he was Cousin Larry, not Balki). It isn’t the instant awareness of this semi-celebrity voicing one of the lead characters that is the problem. It is that, despite the fact that we’re supposed to believe he’s taken control over the man’s life through pure aggression, that’s the last thing that comes to mind when Baker speaks, throwing out an endless, unfunny barrage of sexual innuendo.
However, as a time and cultural capsule, Me and Him is fascinating. The lead character, Bert Uttanzi, is played by Griffin Dunne as a harried architect with a loving wife. After his penis insists he goes out to experience all the women he’s missing, we expect Dunne, an average looking nerd with crooked teeth, to fall flat on his face repeatedly. But Dörrie has Dunne be a constant success, bedding women left and right, despite what we see of him in his office, with his interest in perennial tease Carey Lowell (Jamie Ross from Law and Order, but now better known as Richard Gere’s wife) and just his clumsy way about him. As a contrast to how Americans view middle class white men on the prowl, bound for failure and embarrassing slapstick, Dörrie (and screenwriter Warren D. Lieght, somehow not a pseudonym [de-light, so clever!]) has Dunne as the sleazy lothario who has left his wife for random pussy, and yet we are supposed to be on his side. Granted, the comic situations of confusion and awkward behavior still come about, as would be necessary in any 1980s “man-talks-to-penis” sexploitation movie. But the comedy has no rhythm or logic and so what sticks out are the strange choices; Lowell asking Dunne to be her friend and asking him to sleep over, in her bed, even though they have no real friendship… Craig T. Nelson as Dunne’s boss having the most confusing affair with Lowell, and Nelson’s wife, played a southern harpy with a voracious sexual appetite, for Dunne alone.
Dörrie’s European perspective explains the sexist and misogynist tone of the movie (with many scenes of ogling women on the street in their undergarments). Lina Wertmüller made her career with politically charged battle of the “hateful” sexes films like Swept Away, often exploiting the women’s bodies and viewing them only as a talking vagina, so Dörrie is not alone as a woman seeing the world this way. But she lets Dunne’s character off the hook by making seem like the put-upon softie, at the whim of the selfish, evil people in the world. You’d think that by giving him a clearly un-American last name, Uttanzi, perhaps as an expression of his newfound ability to see the world in a different way, she’d have her eye on something other than his crotch.