What's the difference between Clifford and a pit bull? One will tear your heart out, scare your friends and wreck your house. The other one is a dog.Clifford
— Tagline of the film
was a 1994 Black Comedy
directed by Paul Flaherty. The film starred Martin Short, Charles Grodin, and Mary Steenburgen. Produced by Orion Pictures in 1990, Orion delayed the release of the film for several years due to financial problems.
The film opens in the year 2050, introducing Roger (Ben Savage), a 10-year old Catholic schoolboy. The boy has just blown up the school gym because of a personal grievance (his parents wouldn't allow him to join the basketball team). Elderly priest Clifford Daniels (Short) catches up to him and tries to convince him to change his ways. To do so, Daniels starts telling his own life story.
Flashback to 1990, with Clifford as a 10-year-old troublemaker. He has a personal grievance, too. He wanted to visit Dinosaur World, a theme park located in California. Instead his parents booked airplane tickets to Hawaii. But Clifford finds a way to visit California anyway.
The movie was a critical flop, with critics pointing out that it was hardly amusing
. As Roger Ebert
put it, little Clifford is beyond your standard Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist
: "mean, vindictive, spiteful and cruel. So hateful that if a real little boy had played him, the movie would be like The Omen
filtered through The Good Son
." Several of the attempts at humor were disturbing instead. In one throwaway scene, Sarah is sexually assaulted by Martin's boss. If it was meant to be funny
, few laughed at it.
While not a Creator Killer
in itself, the film contributed to the financial problems of nearly-bankrupt Orion Productions. Orion had had three major box office hits in the 1990s: Dances with Wolves
, The Silence of the Lambs
and the first The Addams Family
adaptation. The first two failed to cover the debt Orion had acquired because of a long string of 1980s box office bombs. The third film hardly helped the company, as Orion foolishly sold part of the distribution rights to Paramount
. By 1994, many of Orion's most prominent executives, directors and actors had left the studio. After a few years operating as a ghost of itself, the company was sold to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
in 1998. Today, most of its productions between 1978-1982 belong to the Time Warner Company
, most of its productions between 1982 and 1998 belong to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Not to be confuse with the large red dog of the same name
This film provides examples of:
- All Bikers Are Hells Angels: At some point, Clifford narrates a rather outrageous story of having been abducted by your stereotypical outlaw bikers: "They tied me up...and then they told me stories that they do on their bikes. Some of them were fun, but some of them were scary!"
- The Atoner: The Clifford of 2050 is a very different person than the one of 1990.
- Bound and Gagged: Bound but not Gagged. Martin has Clifford in a straitjacket during his visit to Dinosaur World.
- Character Title
- Clear My Name: Part of Martin's motivation in the latter part of the film. Clifford initially framed him for placing a bomb under city hall, leading to his arrest. When the charge didn't stick and no bomb was found, the police filed charges against him for initiating a panic. Martin repeatedly tries to get Clifford to sign the confession which would clear his name
- Companion Cube: Stephen
- Disproportionate Retribution: Roger blows up the school gym because he wasn't allowed to join the school basketball team.
- When Martin is unable to take Clifford to Dinosaur World thanks to a last-minute project dropped on his lap, Clifford proceeds to make his life a living hell.
- Enfant Terrible: While Clifford does not fit the "adorable child" description, he is a child. A child who sabotages aircrafts and wrecks lives.
- Hypocritical Humor: While Martin is trying to convince Sarah of being innocent, she doesn't believe a word he says, points out that he comes off as a phony, and proclaims "I can spot a phony a mile away." The next second, a Drag Queen asks Sarah if she has seen his/her missing dog. Sarah fails to notice he is actually a guy, adressing him/her as "Ma'am."
- It Never Gets Any Easier: At some point, Martin attempts to reason with Clifford that visiting Dinosaur World might be his dream now and failing to achieve it is painful, but Martin has had similar disappointments, with a place he wanted to visit as a child getting closed before he ever had a chance to; he survived. But then Clifford ask this about the pain and the disappointment, "Does it ever get easier, Uncle Martin?". Martin has to admit: "Not really."
- Parental Issues: Clifford reacts to Martin's suggestion of returning him to his parents as if it is a threat, pleading: "Don't send me back to my parents, they hate me!" Martin points out: "Not as much as I do!"
- Pointy-Haired Boss: Gerald Ellis (Dabney Coleman) is Martin's boss. At some point, he decides that the location Martin chose for the train line they are designing is off. He chooses a location two miles away. Martin quickly estimates that this would cause the line to go right through the Sepulveda Dam. Ellis still doesn't get that this is a problem, "you'll come up with something."
- Sanity Slippage: Oh so much for Martin as the movie progresses...
- Shout-Out: Martin warns Sarah against taking Clifford with her, "Don't blame me when his head starts spinning around! Watch out for the green vomit!."
- This Means War!: Clifford's reaction to his uncle failing to keep a promise.
- Time-Shifted Actor: Averted.