Logan’s Moving Pictures goes unexpectedly into the career of Brendan Fraser and specifically one of his deep cut failures. The rarely seen cult oddity; Dudley Do-Right!
One of my most vivid movie-going memories with my brother Ryan came in 1997 and involved, of all films, George of the Jungle.
We were 18 at the time, and it definitely wasn’t a movie really aimed at us, but it was playing at the local discount theatre, and, well, we’d probably seen everything else. Plus, Brendan Fraser! Who didn’t love that guy at the time? Especially folks that fell in with the stoner crowd, which was definitely Ryan. He loved Encino Man, Airheads, and the baseball flick The Scout (my brother loved baseball movies), so why not George of the Jungle?
He and one of his best friends were going to see what was playing and invited me along. The assistant manager there was someone we’d gone to high school with and she’d let us see pretty much whatever we wanted. Me being the straight-laced, nervous kid that I was, I would buy my ticket, and then if we decided on a double feature I’d be content that they got a piece of my money at least. That was how I managed double-digit viewings of Con Air in that same year, a movie we couldn’t get enough of for some reason.
That night though, I only remember seeing the one movie. Just George, George, George of the Jungle, and my memory may be failing me, but I’d swear we were the only people in the theatre. If we weren’t then we owed whoever else was there profuse apologies, because the three of us laughed for about 90 minutes straight. Big, annoying laughter. I’m certain that theirs was aided by inebriation of some sort, and mine was probably egged on by watching them lose their minds at what was probably very dumb comedy…but, I’m not sure I laughed that much at a movie again until I saw 22 Jump Street over twenty years later.
Unfortunately, this isn’t about George of the Jungle, it’s about the movie I found in Ryan’s VHS collection that transported me back to that memory, and me deciding “what the heck, maybe it’s not half bad,” and watching it. And let me save you the trouble; Dudley Do-Right is not good. Not even on a bad-but-good level.
You can maybe toss that up to disliking to works of Jay Ward and cohorts…sure, those original cartoons were old when I was young, but they still seemed to have some general appeal. They were a constant on various basic cable channels when I was growing up, and inevitably an adult in my life would talk about how they watched Rocky & Bullwinkle as a kid, or how much they learned watching Peabody & Sherman. But I just never got the appeal, even as a young kid. Most of the characters seemed like idiots.
But, Hollywood will be Hollywood, and almost all of Ward’s endeavors have been targeted for a retooling aimed at modern audiences at one time or another. Including George of the Jungle, which may be an outlier for me, but I haven’t had the heart to revisit it, considering how treasured that memory is. And I think I actually saw the Rocky & Bullwinkle movie in theatres…the less said about it the better.
I guess the fact that most of them feature excellent casts speaks to at least a love and appreciation for the man and his characters, and in that regard, Dudley Do-Right is no different. If you told me there was a movie with Brendan Fraser as the hero and Alfred Molina as the bad guy, I’d be in immediately. Even if you told me Sara Jessica Parker was the love interest I’d probably still be down (sorry folks, she is not my cuppa tea as an actress). Throw in the fact that it features character work by Eric Idle, Alex Rocco, Jack Kehler, and Jed Rees…definitely winning in my book. I guess it all just falls apart when it becomes about the misadventure of a doofus and his horse.
What’s most impressive about its failure is the fact that it was made by incredibly talented (and quite funny) people. The aforementioned cast has all proven themselves in multiple cinematic genres, and even though I dislike Parker even I’ll admit she can be funny with the right material. It was also written and directed by Hugh Wilson, who sadly passed away in 2018. Wilson not only created one of the best sitcoms ever, WKRP in Cincinnati (whose star, Howard Hessman, also recently passed), he pulled the same cinematic double duty on Blast from the Past (also starring Fraser), Guarding Tess (an underrated gem) and the be-all-end-all of cop comedies, Police Academy.
I just kept reminding myself that this was not even a movie made for me, and it really did seem to embrace the source material and run with it. So, I guess the failure is really my own. It’s just not something I can appreciate on a comedic front.
Every few minutes I would find myself checking the run time, debating on just turning it off. At roughly 80 minutes it’s not a terribly long commitment, but when your attention wanders away from the story every 90 seconds, those minutes feel like hours.
About halfway through I came across a scene with Fraser’s Dudley and Eric Idle, who plays a hapless drunk for a majority of his screen time. In it, Dudley waxes poetic about the line between right and wrong, to which Idle explains to him that when it comes to greed the line isn’t as thin as you’d like to think. He then goes on to “hilariously” train him in how to be bad, in order to beat Whiplash at his own game. It all plays out like something from a Three Stooges routine, and honestly, there are some physical comedy bits that made me smile
Shortly after Dudley goes on his mission to be more “dangerous” he comes across Idle again. Finding that he cleaned himself up and got sober, Idle explains that he was lost, unable to be a hero even unto himself. That it took someone believing in him to be able to see his own value, and now he’s setting off to find his family and make amends.
It’s a tiny moment in a stupid film about a man working to overcome his addiction, discovering his own self-worth, and seeking to make restitution to his loved ones. So, of course, it stayed with me after the credits had blissfully rolled.
Addiction issues run far and wide in my family tree. Drugs, alcohol, food, sugar…hell, buying baseball cards, collecting comics…if you can use it to fill that empty void, someone in my family has probably given it a go at some point. Me included (though, less with the drugs and alcohol, more with the food and nerd stuff). And watching that scene rang so true to my experience of being on both sides of it.
I used to go to church with someone who would repeatedly ask me about a family member with a drug addiction, why I wasn’t doing everything I could to help them, why wouldn’t I just always be making the effort…and the truth is, at one point in my life I did all the things you think you’d do if it was someone you loved. Went above and beyond to help in every way, and what ended up happening was I further enabled it. Eventually, I had to take a step back, and then a few more. It’s sad, incredibly sad, but I wasn’t helping, only hurting.
It’s a terrible thing to understand about yourself and the situation. The truth of the matter is that until someone wants to step out of the darkness, there’s absolutely nothing you can do to help them. Sometimes shining a light onto it just makes them recede even further. We want our family and friends to always be our biggest and proudest cheerleaders, and often they want the same thing, but the reality is that it usually takes someone outside our immediate world to help us recognize our own value. At least, that’s been my experience.
Never watch Dudley Do-Right, it’s a ridiculously dumb movie. Instead, maybe just be nice to every stranger you come across, you never know what that might mean to their life in the long run.