Leaving soon: Steve Martin is ‘The Man with Two Brains’ on HBO Max

Steve Martin became a big screen comedy star thanks to back-to-back hits with The Jerk (1981) and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982). Both had the benefit of a veteran hand guiding Martin from behind the camera: comedy legend Carl Reiner.

They teamed up for a third and final collaboration with The Man with Two Brains (1983), a brightly-colored spoof of mad scientist movies. Martin stars as brilliant brain surgeon Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (try pronouncing that three times fastI) who falls for a scheming sexpot (Kathleen Turner) after saving her life in a risky operation. She’s driven one husband to a heart attack and takes delight in tormenting her new hubby, who soon falls in love with a disembodied brain in jar (voiced by an uncredited Sissy Spacek) preserved by a fellow brain surgeon (David Warner).

Like Dead Men, which took on old detective movies and film noir thrillers, this comedy drops the wild and crazy humor of Martin’s standup comedy act into a spoof of old Hollywood science fiction films (from Frankenstein to Donovan’s Brain), femme fatale melodramas, and impossible love stories. Reiner is a good fit with this kind of humor, a mix of deadpan absurdity and cartoonish visual gags, and he guides the supporting cast to play straight man to Martin’s broad physical humor and Turner’s over-the-top vamping.

As a side note, this is the first of two Martin comedies to put the mind of a lovely soul into the body of a beautiful but evil woman (the other was All of Me), but this one subverts the fantasy with a comic twist.

Paul Benedict gamely maintains a deadpan expression and perfect posture as the unfazed butler, Richard Brestoff and James Cromwell costar, and a certain daytime talk show host makes a killer cameo.

Rated R

Leaves HBO Max at the end of May

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
The Man with Two Brains [Blu-ray]
The Man with Two Brains [DVD]

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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