Today: July 14, 2024

Brewster’s Millions

Finally released on Blu-ray Brewster’s Millions is a surprisingly simple and endlessly entertaining tale of financial excess.

Montgomery ‘Monty’ Brewster (Richard Pryor) has always dreamed of better things. As a pitcher for the Hackensack Bulls, a minor-league baseball team, Brewster has been waiting for his chance to take it to the next level. When he notices a photographer in the audience at a game one day, Brewster jumps to the conclusion he’s finally made it – that photographer is surely a talent scout, he confidently concludes. But that evening, Brewster and his best friend Spike (John Candy) find themselves arrested after a bar-fight. After bail is paid by this ‘talent scout’, the down-and-out Brewster is taken to New York City for an interesting proposition – either take $1 million and walk away, or accept a challenge with a far bigger reward. The challenge? Spend $30 million in 30f days. The reward? $300 million. But if he fails, he gets ‘diddly’ – nothing.

Brewster’s Millions’ charm lies mainly in its narrative simplicity. It’s no surprise George Barr McCutcheon’s original 1902 novel of the same name has been adapted for the screen ten times (with this 1985 adaptation being the 7th) – it just works on screen. So what did Walter Hill’s adaptation do to stand out?

Firstly, the casting of Richard Pryor was, as always, a masterstroke. With his usual manic energy, Pryor makes Brewster one of his most memorable performances. Brewster’s exhausting quest of financial over-indulgence is shared by the viewer, thanks to believable frustration from Pryor in every scene. With a term of his challenge being that nobody else can know what he’s up to, his attempts to justify his excessive expenditure and gleeful response to loss is hilarious. Pryor isn’t alone, with brilliant support from the legendary John Candy and a handful of other 1980s faces including a brief appearance from Rick Moranis.

The humour of Brewster’s Millions holds up just fine, particularly when Brewster embarks on a political campaign with probably the most brutally honest and truthful slogan of all time – “Don’t vote for any of us. We’re a**holes! We’ll only make things worse! That’s a promise.” In this era of political unrest, this ‘joke’ is, unfortunately, still relevant.

But, the most unfortunate of all is the fact that Brewster’s Millions continues to exist in Trading Places’ shadow. Similar in tone and narrative, Trading Places has earned a strong reputation and classic status – it’s the 1980s finance comedy, and nobody will usurp its throne. But this does not detract from Brewster’s Millions’ timeless appeal, and with a brilliant new Blu-ray release available courtesy of Fabulous Films, it’s hard to imagine a better time to revisit this consistently entertaining 80s romp.

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