The Knight-Time Review

The Distinguished Gentleman (1992) Review // Recommendation

A picture of Eddie Murphy, the lead of The Distinguished Gentleman

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A picture of Eddie Murphy, the lead of The Distinguished Gentleman

J. L. Ilai, Contributing Writer

Note, due to the length of this piece, it has been abridged for CHSKTR. For the unabridged version, go to the link at the bottom of the page.

Eddie Murphy is rightly considered one of the great comedians. In the soft remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Distinguished Gentleman, he shows a range. His character, Jeff Johnson, does impressions for a living. When a congressman running for reelection also named Jeff Johnson suddenly dies, Murphy’s character wants to get into congress for the money he’ll make while there.

This film has a dry quality to it. Any character that’s on the older side seems battered. In one scene, the congressman’s widow is asked about running for congress, she replies “I was a Washington wife for twenty years. Twenty years of Potomac bull**** is plenty for one lifetime.” The widow later attempts to sleep with Murphy’s character and shows no interest for her husband. Despite the scene’s lack of relevance to the movie’s plot, it does give us a peak under the curtain of the congress life. The movie progressively shows more and more inside the goings on of the various politicians.

These non-comedic moments are in contrast to the numerous jokes that do fit naturally into the plot. Many are genuinely funny. Jeff impersonates an NAACP member and speaks like he’s Martin Luther King Jr. Every inflection of King’s that he gets right demands at least a chuckle.

Many plot elements I thought the film forgot about came back around and added something to the story. Some characters appear in the beginning, they’re gone, then reappear at the end. The element of the film best done is the acting. You can understand why people act or feel a certain way. After a character says their first line, you know how they think. The best actor is Eddie Murphy, who has buckets of subtle character development. There’s no point where he completely changes at once. His impressions are convincing and funny based on how well they’re done.

SPOILERS

Murphy’s character, Jeff Johnson, is a con man. He has numerous friends that are also con artists. A few of whom go with Jeff to DC once he’s elected. Jeff being a con man adds multiple things to the film. For starters, numerous jokes come from that element. More importantly, it’s in Jeff’s character to follow the money and take a good con. To him, there’s not one much better than becoming a congressman. Some of his conning abilities, such as doing impressions, benefit him in the film. The con is a reason for him to know all the tricks. He solves the main conflict with his abilities. The movie starts because of a con and it ends because of one. It’s clever how the plot being solved is related to how it starts. It’s irritating when a solution comes from nothing and has nothing to do with anything.

The social commentary is apparent. The most overtly satirized group are the politicians. Most of the ones we see focus on issues where they can get money out of it. Initially, Jeff is just in it for money and aligns with them, but after discovering that power lines near schools appear to be giving kids cancer, he changes his tune a bit. After bringing the matter up with some congressmen, they refuse to do anything, and Jeff decides to do something. Jeff uses the fact that records are buried against the corrupt politicians by saying this or that needs to be off the table or he needs to do something that was requested off the table. A more obvious example of satire is a scene where the antagonists laugh together while there’s a storm in the background, thus creating a clear parallel. 

The most irritating part of the film is the character of Celia Kirby. As soon as Jeff sees her, he takes an interest. He asks her out and is rejected. There’s a few more moments like this where he tries to get involved with her and fails. However, at about the halfway point, the two are on a romantic date. Why would she go out with him? She only knew him as a Hustler. Later, someone says they’re dating. Jeff was never shown doing something that made her like him.

There’s a small twist at the end which is one of the most brilliant parts of the film. Jeff is in a conversation where the Chairman, the main antagonist, Dick Dodge, and another character named Olaf Anderson. The two say incriminating things of themselves. Later, Jeff asks Dick if he can speak of his praises of Dick at a public hearing where numerous people and cameras are. He pulls out a tape claiming it’s of that conversation. Dick calls for a recess before the tape can be played. He and Anderson yell at Jeff and bring up numerous topics related to different parts of the film and other things they’ve done. He and Anderson play the tape, only to see that nothing bad is on it. They angrily storm out. For that scene, Jeff had the camera with him before setting it down. I was curious why he brought the camera with him, but Jeff subtly looks at the camera. A shot of it pointed at where the argument was held tells us his true plan. He plays that tape once the recess is over and Dick is arrested. After being considered a hero, he announces his plans to run for president and gives a comedic look to the camera, breaking the fourth wall.

OVERVIEW

This film has not been too liked by critics. They say the plot is too basic and simple. While that isn’t something to praise, the point is its acting and to emphasize the government which is based on our actual government. Where it counts, it hits. Currently, most would agree that it applies to today or at least it applies to the 90’s. Hopefully one day that movie will be criticized for being too foreign to reality.

The Full Review: https://thefilmediary.wordpress.com/2020/01/28/the-distinguished-gentleman-1992-review/

Read more reviews here: https://thefilmediary.wordpress.com/

About the Contributors
Photo of J. L. Ilai
J. L. Ilai, Contributing Writer

What else can I say but... you're welcome.

Read more reviews here: http://thefilmediary.wordpress.com/

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