Johnny Dangerously (1984)

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This 80’s underrated comedy is a funny tribute to the classic gangster film full of funny performances and gags that even holds in today’s standards.

As a teenager hawking newspapers in 1910 New York City, Johnny Kelly is just trying to make a living to help his constantly ailing mother. When he gets into a fight with rival Danny Vermin, his victory attracts the attention of local gangster Jocko Dundee. At first, Johnny refuses to help. That is until his mother needs an operation. Johnny decides to help Dundee against arch nemesis Roman Moronie and when they succeed, Johnny temporarily works for Jocko.

Flash forward twenty-five years later. Johnny is now a full-time member of Dundee’s gang and goes by the name “Johnny Dangerously”. He manages to get his younger brother through law school, becomes well-respected, and owns a local nightclub. He even finds love in Lil Sheridan, a singer who comes to New York to make it big. However, when Johnny learns his old rival Danny is now a member of the gang and that Jocko is contemplating retirement, Johnny finds himself in a whirl of trouble when he learns his brother, now the District Attorney, vows to find “Johnny Dangerously” and stop him. To make matters worse, Danny tries to take over the gang and finds any way to ensure he gets the top position.

The classic gangster film is a wonderful look at how “crime will never pay” and always ends up with the lead character meeting his fate in one way or another. This film answers the question what if the gangster film was made into a comedy and the gangster didn’t meet his fate, but ended up finding a better life through leaving the gang? This film answers that very question and proves to be quite a comical homage to the genre.

Michael Keaton brings such comic flair as the titular Johnny Dangerously, who meshes perhaps his best Jimmy Cagney impression with the comedy he was known for at the time. He couldn’t fit the role any better while Joe Piscopo’s Danny Vermin brings the Clark Gable look but gives a voice that could be said to be an impression of another classic gangster actor, Edward G. Robinson. While Dangerously is the benevolent gangster who only wants what’s best for everyone, Vermin intends to take over the gang when he feels the gang needs to be eviller. Vermin’s running joke is also quite funny to watch.

Peter Boyle is great to see as Johnny’s potential boss, Jocko Dundee, bringing back memories of the classic gangster boss to a tee even though in one scene, his brings his comic flair in a hilarious way. Marilu Henner’s Lil Sheridan will remind viewers of the likes of some of the classic 1930’s molls, such as Karen Morley with a taste of Rita Hayworth in her musical number. One of the highlights of the film is Richard Dimitri’s Roman Maronie, who butchers the typical curse words all to give the film a rightful PG rating.

In what could be homage to Cagney’s The Public Enemy, Griffin Dunne is both serious and funny in certain points to see as Tommy, Johnny’s brother who soon finds himself rising up the ranks to become the District Attorney and vows to stop Johnny Dangerously, not knowing until it is too late that Dangerously is his own brother. Maureen Stapleton is also funny as the wise-cracking mother of the Kelly Brothers, who finds herself constantly working too hard or sick, or taking one in the gut from Johnny. Add to the fact, she just is completely brunt. Some great cameos, both short and extended, from the likes of Dom DeLuise, Danny DeVito, Ray Walston (who has a running gag himself), and Alan Hale Jr. just add to the hilarity.

Johnny Dangerously is a fun tribute to the classic gangster film with some fun gags, a dazzling musical number, but most importantly, some great performances led by Michael Keaton in one of his best early roles.

WFG RATING: A

20th Century Fox an Edgewood Productions film. Director: Amy Heckerling. Producer: Michael Hertzberg. Writers: Harry Colomby, Jeff Harris, Bernie Kukoff, and Norman Steinberg. Cinematography: David M. Walsh. Editing: Pem Herring.

Cast: Michael Keaton, Joe Piscopo, Marilu Henner, Peter Boyle, Richard Dimitri, Maureen Stapleton, Griffin Dunne, Glynnis O’Connor, Scott Thomson, Dick Butkus, Mike Barcella, Danny DeVito, Dom DeLuise, Byron Thames, Ray Walston.

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