Long before John Goodman terrified us this year in the brilliant 10 Cloverfield Lane, he was a cuddly and loveable comedy star. In 1991, he was given his first leading role – Ralph Hampton Gainesworth Jones, or quite simply, King Ralph.
Loosely based on the novel Headlong by Emlyn Williams but turning the comedy up to 11, King Ralph tells a simple tale. When an accident obliterates the entire British royal family, Sir Cedric Charles Willingham (Peter O’Toole) and a team of genealogical boffins begin a frantic search for any potential heirs to the throne. But the man they find isn’t quite what they had in mind. Ralph, a sleazy American lounge singer, is their discovery – and their only hope. Can they make a king out of a man who spends his first evening of royalty visiting a strip club?
Like many comedies of its era, King Ralph’s narrative is wonderfully simple and borderline high-concept. The premise of an American slob becoming king of England is ripe for comedy with very little else required in the plot department. The fish-out-of-water humour is timeless, and the My Fair Lady-esque mentoring from O’Toole brings the film’s biggest laughs, thanks to Goodman’s futile attempts at being a gentleman. King Ralph is essentially a buddy comedy, but the film belongs to Goodman who steals every scene he’s in – which, obviously, is the majority. Despite Ralph’s slobby and sleazy demeanour, you can’t help but love the guy.
However, the film does struggle when it attempts to interject too much plot – even John Hurt can’t save the antagonistic Lord Percival Graves from being such a paper-thin and forgettable villain, while Ralph’s romance with stripper Miranda (Camille Coduri) brings perhaps a little too much predictability to proceedings. King Ralph works best as a comedy of manners, with Goodman’s hilarious attempts to play cricket, walk like a king and share a cup of tea with Peter O’Toole.
King Ralph arguably began the career of John Goodman as a Hollywood star and for that reason alone, it deserves your time. But more important than that, King Ralph is a funny film. Most of the jokes land and the film’s brisk pace makes it an easy watch. If you’re looking for a simple and entertaining little comedy, you could do better…but you could do a hell of a lot worse.