What's Up, Tiger Lily?
First screened and reviewed in Summer 1998
Director: Woody Allen. Cast: Woody Allen, The Lovin' Spoonful, Tatsuya Mihashi, Tadao Nakamaru, Eisei Amamoto, Steven Boone. Screenplay: Woody Allen, Julie Bennett, Frank Buxton, Louise Lasser, Len Maxwell, Mickey Rose, and Bryan Wilson (adapted from imposed upon the film Kagi No Kag by Kazuo Yamada). Twitter Capsule:
Woody Allen and friends superimpose all-new dialogue on shoestring Japanese film. So why isn't it funnier?
Got Woody's name out to many more people. In some ways a limited one-off stunt. In other ways prefigures an entire school of parodic repurposing and a whole culture based in sarcasm.
Ed. Jun 2014:Another remnant of the site's early months, when I thought I'd write at least a short blurb about every movie I saw. I often regret not making time to do that over the last 16 years, but then I read something this half-assed... Haven't rewatched Tiger Lily so can't say if I'd find it funnier now.
One of Woody Allen's first features was this deranged grand-daddy of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Rather than chortling side-comments over a terrible movie, though, Tiger Lily shucks the whole soundtrack of the existing Japanese action drama Kagi No Kag and loops in an all-new farcical story line about smugglers, call girls, and egg salad. Trust me, I'm not kidding, but also trust me that the project isn't nearly as funny as the premise and promise of Allen's name might suggest. This sort of stunt, which plenty of comics could have pulled off just as easily, is especially disappointing compared with the more personal, more focused, and more riotously funny work Allen comes up with when he films his own pictures from scratch. Also disappointing is how much of the fake dialogue (penned and frequently improvised by Allen and a crew of co-conspirators) seems to hew closely with what must have been the original plot. Allen has the inspiration to turn a valuable secret code into an egg salad recipe, but most of the other props and characters are described in unimaginatively literal terms.
Maybe the biggest factor weighing against the film is that the original dialogue and scenarios of a film this preposterous are almost inevitably funnier than what even the sharpest tongues can substitute on its behalf. What's Up, Tiger Lily? does achieve one consistently riotous strain of comedy in following a crazed bartender-henchman who owns a pet cobra and talks like Peter Lorre, but all in all, to paraphrase an old Entertainment Weekly review, "You can skip entire chapters and not miss much; you can skip the whole movie and not miss a thing." Grade:C