Brain Donors is a 1992 comedy film produced by David and Jerry Zucker and released by Paramount Pictures. It is a modern remake of the Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera, starring John Turturro, Mel Smith, and Bob Nelson as the Expy Marxes.
The plot begins when Lillian Oglethorpe uses the fortunes of her recently-deceased tycoon husband to start a ballet company in his name. Through some fast-talking shenanigans, Ambulance Chaser Roland T. Flakfizer (Turturro) is appointed director of the company, over Mr. Oglethorpe's attorney Edmund Lazlo. With the help of taxi driver Rocco Melonchek (Smith) and handyman Jacques (Nelson), Flakfizer tries to build up the company while pairing up star-crossed dancers Alan Grant and Lisa Le Baron. They are opposed by Lazlo's efforts to discredit Flakfizer and take control of the company for himself, while the egotistical international ballet star Roberto “the Great” Volare has his own eyes on Lisa.
As you might expect given the pedigrees involved, much, much Hilarity Ensues. Unfortunately, due to petty infighting, the movie was released without any publicity and a handful of home video releases, and remains almost completely ignored by Paramount to this day.
This movie demonstrates the following tropes:
- Ambulance Chaser: Roland T. Flakfizer is literally an Ambulance Chaser — his very first appearance in the film features him chasing an ambulance on foot to the scene of an automobile accident, where he immediately begins to yell about the impending lawsuits he plans to file.
- Amoral Attorney: Roland T. Flakfizer (see above) is a great example of this trope. Also, Edmund Lazlo, personal attorney to the late Mr. Oglethorpe. He only appears benevolent to Lillian, but is clearly interested in the directorship only for the money.
- Bavarian Fire Drill: Rocco walks into the doctor's break room intent on stealing doctor's uniforms in order for the three of them to enter a secured floor of the hospital where Lillian is being treated.Rocco: "Hi, Ed Breckman, Security. (Beat) There's a Mercedes on fire in the doctor's parking lot."Doctors: "WHAT!?!" (All the doctors run out of the break room)
- Book Ends: The claymation sequences.
- Brick Joke: The ambulance that Roland T. Flakfizer chases comes back again at the end when Roland tells Mrs. Oglethorpe that he'll never leave her side.
- Casanova Wannabe: Flakfizer talks a great game, at any rate."Please, call me what everyone else calls me: 'Your Royal Sex Machine.'"
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander / Genius Ditz: Jacques.Roland: And that spells cash with a capital-
Roland: You should go back to school.
Jacques: I hated teaching!
- Comedic Sociopathy: In the best Marx Brothers tradition, none of the three protagonists buy into the significance of anything that happens in the movie. Rocco and Jacques are sometimes allied with Flakfizer, sometimes antagonists ... and it doesn't matter in the least.
- Disguised in Drag: Jacques dresses up as a ballerina during Volare's premiere.
- Double Entendre: Flakfizer's got a million of these; good thing he's been vaccinated.
- Dressing as the Enemy: Flakfizer et al dress up as doctors to infiltrate a hospital and recover an incriminating letter from Lazlo.Rocco: "We'll have to perform a full rectum-ology."Roland: "Fondue, an epidemic! drop those pants... Not you, the patient."Doctor: "I thought you were cardiologists..."Rocco: "Uh, well, they're all connected, we enter the rectum and head north."Roland: "Why do you think we have such long instruments?"
- All three main characters are this to the three main Marx Brothers. Though while Flakfizer is almost identical to Groucho in everything but the mustache and cigar, the other two mix it up a bit: Rocco talks with an English accent rather than Chico's Italian, and Jacques, unlike Harpo, is not the voiceless.
- Nancy Marchand's Mrs. Oglethorpe stands in for the high society straight women played by Margaret Dumont.
- Spike Alexander as Alan Grant is an expy of Allan Jones's character from Opera, who was himself an expy of the recently retired Zeppo.
- Extended Disarming / Hyperspace Arsenal: Done in montage when the heroes have been arrested. During jail processing, Jacques empties the pockets of his pants and longcoat, revealing an ever-growing pile of odd items including a baby bottle, fire extinguisher, rubber alligator, bicycle pump, and feather duster.
- Faux Affably Evil: Edmund Lazlo
- Foreign Queasine: Referenced in passing.Rocco: [as a dog rips his trouser leg] "What a charming little animal."Lillian: "Do you know dogs, Mister Melonchek?"Rocco: "Know dogs? I used to be a chef in a Korean restaurant!"
- Grande Dame: Lillian Oglethorpe, in true Margaret Dumont fashion.
- Hospital Hottie: The hot nurse that appears in the stop-motion Book Ends
- Homage: The entire movie is a feature-length homage to the Marx Brothers.
- Humiliation Conga: Happens to Volare at the premiere in front of hundreds of spectators.
- Hyperspace Mallet: When the trio decide to "take care of" egotistical ballet star Volare, Jacques pulls a huge wooden sledgehammer out of nowhere. He is, unfortunately, restrained from actually using it.
- Instant Costume Change: Done effortlessly by Flakfizer, Rocco, and Jacques at the premiere. Off-screen, they switch from ballerina tutus and basketball uniforms to hunting gear and a full-body duck suit without a break in the action.
- Jerkass: Roberto Volare has an impressively inflated ego due to his status in the ballet world, and is unrestrained about using it to woo Lisa away from Alan.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Flakfizer might be a money-seeking Ambulance Chaser, but he's sincere about pairing up Alan and Lisa, despite Volare's intentions.
- Karmic Trickster: Flakfizer's group is this to Volare, especially during the premiere.
- Mobile Kiosk: At one point, Jacques produces and expands a collapsible office desk, complete with collapsible computer, collapsible printer, and inflatable secretary.
- Mock Millionaire: Flakfizer pulls this when he arrives at Lilian's yard party:[Talking on cellular phone] "How did the market close? Uh-huh. Well, roll over my amalgamated, split my utilities, and double my capital venture overlays. Now call me in an hour, and tell me what the hell I'm talking about!"
- He plays a similar role when he inspects the theater before the premiere, complete with stretch limousine, pimp jacket, and bikini-clad admirers.
- Never Trust a Trailer: The video cover claims that this movie is "In the tradition of Abbott and Costello, The Three Stooges and The Reagan Administration". In reality, this is a remake of a Marx Brothers movie and doesn't take after the humor of Abbott and Costello or the Stooges at all.
- Pillow Pregnancy: Done as part of Flakfizer's introduction. When he arrives at the scene of a minor car accident and sees a woman passenger, he immediately sticks an instant-inflating pillow under her dress and yells loudly about the liability due to her condition.
- Porn Stash: Jacques sets one up for Lazlo during the reading of the Oglethorpe will.Rocco: [grabbing magazines] "Charity work. I gather these for those less fortunate than myself who can't afford pornography."
- Rapid-Fire Comedy: Very much so, in the ZAZ tradition.
- The Remake: Of A Night at the Opera
- Ring-Ring-CRUNCH!: Part of Jacques' morning routine. He even has a dresser drawer full of broken alarm clock parts and a closet full of new clocks for this purpose.
- Rule of Funny: The only thing that drives the plot.
- Self-Abuse:Volare: "Do you realize what I was doing at the age of seven?"Flakfizer: "I can imagine and you must be thankful you didn't go blind."Volare: "I was dancing professionally!"Flakfizer: "Whatever you call it. Flogging the carrot, polishing the cuestick, choking the chicken, clearing the snorkel..."
- Shout-Out: A number of gags and scenes are nods to A Night at the Opera and the Marx Brothers in general.
- Jacques' morning alarm clock routine is one to Harpo waking up the morning after he impersonated a pilot.
- Flakfizer, Rocco, and Jacques (literally) splitting their contract 50-50 is a reference to the negotiation gag between Groucho and Chico in Opera.
- This joke:Groucho: "You know the old saying: two's company, five's a crowd."
Flakfizer: "Two's company, three's an adult movie."
- The hotel-shuffling scene from Opera is recreated here with Lilian's mansion and a blonde sex kitten.
- Flakfizer's Mock Millionaire inspection of the theater before the premiere mirrors Groucho's walk-through before the opera.
- The Stateroom Sketch scene uses Volare's dressing room instead of Groucho's ship suite.
- Rocco and Jacques using the orchestra's harp to grate bread is a reference to Harpo's renown harp-playing skills. Meanwhile, their obviously fake beards are a nod to the air heroes from Opera.
- Flakfizer calling the ballet as a baseball game is one to Chico and Harpo's improvised baseball game in the orchestra pit.
- In Opera, Lassparri quits after he is pelted with an apple. Here, Volare gets an entire produce section.
- Some gags from other Marx Brothers movies make their way in too: Producing a blank contract that one party states will be "filled in later" happened in Horse Feathers, and at one point the main trio impersonates doctors in a scene highly reminiscent of one in A Day at the Races.
- The Stateroom Sketch: Happens in Volare's dressing room before the premiere.
- Sociopathic Hero: If you only forget that this is an absurd comedy ruled by Rule of Funny. Flakfizer is an amoral swindler, devoid of empathy and always looking for an angle to trick, manipulate, abuse, use up and defraud anyone and anything he comes across. He spends every waking moment lying and conning his way through life, gleefully smiling at the people he scams as he looks them straight in the eye and shakes their hands. He uses glibness, studied emotions, fake charm, insistence and persuasiveness to trick, coerce, manipulate, control and use people. He fits the textbook definition of a psychopath - as opposed to the Hollywood Psychopath - almost perfectly. He does help out the innocent young dancers and ends up doing some good deeds, but that's only because it all fits his goals. If you watch the movie from this perspective, the implications are as terrifying as will be the inevitable future fate of the ballet company that Flakfizer takes over (which he does through manipulation and scams, of course).
- Stop Motion: The opening title and end credit sequences are done in Claymation.
- Taking the Fight Outside: Played for Laughs:Roland: (to Edmund) Let's step outside and settle this like men!
Edmund: But we are outside.
Roland: Then let's step inside and settle this like women.
- Totally 18: At one point the trio is awakened suddenly, and the first thing out of Roland T. Flakfizer's mouth is "She looked eighteen, officer, I swear!"
- Inverted when Lazlo is caught in bed with a half-naked blonde woman.Flakfizer: "And she looks like she's about 15!"
Lazlo: "No, no, no!"
Flakfizer: "Okay, 14 then. In fact, I know she's 14 because I was dating her a year ago!"
- Inverted when Lazlo is caught in bed with a half-naked blonde woman.
- Trickster Archetype: Roland T. Flakfizer, fitting as an Expy of Groucho Marx.