The screwball comedies of the ’30s and ’40s are hard to imitate; today’s actors, with few exceptions, just aren’t trained to talk or move or pratfall with the speed and precision they once were. The manic new indie “Wild Canaries,” starring real-life couple Sophia Takal and Lawrence Michael Levine (who wrote/directed), doesn’t try to nail all of the subgenre’s tropes, but its love is more than skin deep. In fact, it’s essentially a loose, loving remake of Woody Allen’s screwballish “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” with Takal and Levine as a couple, here young and about to marry, who suspect their neighbors of foul play, all while fending off potential affairs.
The scholar Stanley Cavell described certain screwballs, notably “The Awful Truth,” as “comedies of remarriage.” That applies to “Wild Canaries”’ plot, which finds Takal’s breathless, excitable bluster matching perfectly with Levine’s easily flustered ticking time bomb. Both Levine and Takal hail from the micro-budget indie scene; check out her “Green” and his “Gabi on the Roof in July.” As such, “Wild Canaries” is a retro homage that stays very much its own thing.
Summer turns New York into a playground, and few films have used so much of it as Walter Hill’s hysterical exploitation film. Feeding on the panic around gangs that hit its zenith in the late ’70s, this rough-and-tumble one-night-in-the-city romp finds a group of toughs trying to survive a night when they’re targeted by the entire city’s horde of ne’er-do-wells, each one with silly matching get-ups (a mime gang, a baseball gang, etc.). Equal parts cartoon and grit, it allows characters, likable or simply likably unlikable (such as James Remar), to get picked off, even killed. Still, it only takes an entire night to get from the Bronx down to Coney Island? The MTA must have once upon a time been on point.
We’re not actually suggesting you watch Ivan Reitman’s sticky-sweet 1988 dramedy, which offers more tear-jerking than yuks with the idea of the former Conan the Barbarian and the future Frank Reynolds hailing from the same mother. But it is interesting as a marker for when the “hard body” super-alpha-muscle men of ’80s cinema were emasculated as the Reagan era began fading away. And it’s interesting as proof that Arnold Schwarzenegger can actually be funny. Some of his comedies find him trying too hard; as critic Sean Burns points out, he’s funnier in “Terminator: Genisys,” when he’s doing almost nothing. But he’s oddly charming here, in his first family-friendly role — or second, if you count 1970’s “Hercules in New York.” If this were another movie, he and Danny DeVito might even have something to do with their considerable chemistry. As long as that other film isn’t this.