By Morgan Leger
Riddle me this, dear reader: What happens when you take some of the best
comedians from the 1980s, put them in a premise that seems slightly parallel to
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and have it directed by a former “Ghostbuster”?
The result is a four-letter word that can’t be printed here, but in its place is a
hampered mess that makes one wonder what exactly Dan Aykroyd was thinking when he
directed, wrote and starred in a film that is literally “Nothing But Trouble.” It
is an attempted horror-comedy that has no hearty laughs, and the only scary thing is
that Warner Bros. green-lit such a bizarre production.
The plot centers on wealthy Manhattan resident Chris Thorne (Chevy Chase), who has to escort a young tenant (Demi Moore) to Atlantic City. Accompanied by
two other characters he dubs “Brazillionaires,” who happen to serve as bad
comic relief, the group takes a detour off the New Jersey Turnpike and ends up in
Valkenvania, a nearly burned-out city littered with frail houses, thousands of vent
pipes, and hillbilly citizens who look like rejects from “Deliverance.”
After running through a stop sign and failing to escape pursuit from
Officer Dennis Valkenheiser (John Candy), Chris has no choice but to be taken in to
the junkyard of a city’s courthouse, which is really a mansion that is modeled
after one too many haunted-house designs.
There, Chris finds himself in the presence of the 106-year-old Judge Alvin Valkenheiser (Dan Aykroyd in heavy makeup), a sick and sadistic character who can only be described as an older, raunchier version of Beetlejuice. The only reason for Alvin’s harsh ruling against Chris is that he blames the wealthy,
which calls “bankers,” for causing the Great Depression that left countless families bankrupt.
This villain appears to be deranged, disturbed, and possibly missing a few marbles. In one scene, for example, Alvin offers Chris and his friends foods like century-old hot dogs and warm Hawaiian Punch.
From then on in, the film revolves around our captured heroes trying
to escape the nightmarish funhouse, as they face horrors too gruesome even for Disney’s
Haunted Mansion ride. And dare I mention the demented, baby-
faced trolls that Demi Moore’s character runs into outside the mansion, also portrayed by Dan Aykroyd?
Speaking of double roles, John Candy also portrays the judge’s daughter, whom Chris is forced to marry if he wants to avoid execution. Most of the “bankers” Valkenheiser judges are dumped into “Mr. Bonestripper,” which is part roller-coaster, part grinder; the only thing
that comes out at the end is the riders’ bones. This final addition to this tale
gives the movie the feel of a more demented take on “Rocky Horror,” but the thought
of John Candy in drag is either so odd that it’s funny, or proof of just how low this movie can sink.
The only notable aspect of this 1991 movie is provided by the contraptions and machines
that are laid throughout the mansion. Primitive as they look, the traps present the
haunted-house tone the film should have had, which works well in the second half
but suddenly vanishes near the end.
The other notable moment is Digital
Underground’s cameo, which held a young and then unknown Tupac Shakur in the group.
The band’s appearance is somewhat entertaining but they don’t add much to the plot
and only appear to lighten up the supposed horror comedy. Their scene involves them
getting caught and coming face-to-face with Judge Alvin who, after a pointless but
memorable performance of one of their hits, lets them go without punishment.
“Nothing But Trouble” also ran into post-production problems
after it was completed. Originally titled “Geeked” (a reference to a freak
show attraction that thankfully doesn’t exist), it met with a dismal response
when first viewed by test audiences and was heavily re-edited to
remove objectionable violence and gore. This new
version was re-titled “Valkenvania,” and was shelved for nearly five
months, until it was re-titled yet again due to requests from the studio to
distance the movie from the original title.
As a result, the final title doesn’t
reflect the film or even the plot in general. In fact, if you heard the
title without knowing the summary, you would probably mistake it for a gangster
flick or a buddy cop comedy.
To make a long story short, “Nothing But Trouble” failed with critics and
the box office. However, it did manage to gain a cult following over the years and
this is frankly unsurprising. The jokes fell flat, the characters were not even
close to likable, and the dark, twisted moments could leave a lasting mental image.
In the end, you’re not laughing at the corny jokes or the many one-liners that Chevy Chase shoots
off; instead, you’re laughing at how the movie fails to do something creative with its oddball
The final verdict: this movie is recommended only for those who enjoy bad
movies. For everyone else, it’s little more than a waste of 94 minutes of