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Film / Dunston Checks In

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Get ready for some serious monkey business!

“He's about to turn a Five Star Hotel into a three ring circus.”

Written by John Hopkins and Bruce Graham, Dunston Checks In is a 1996 American comedy film directed by Ken Kwapis. The movie stars Jason Alexander, Eric Lloyd, Faye Dunaway, Rupert Everett, Paul Reubens, and Glenn Shadix with Bob Bergen providing the vocal effects for Dunston.

As the beleaguered manager of the luxurious Majestic Hotel in New York City, Robert Grant (Alexander) deftly juggles keeping the place in order with controlling his two troublesome and mischievous sons as he prepares for the hotel's upcoming annual Crystal Ball gala. Things get still more complicated when the establishment's snobbish owner Mrs. DuBrow (Dunaway) shows up bearing unwelcome news: A Le Monde travel association critic, going undercover as a guest, is planning to award a coveted sixth star to the most elite five-star hotels in the world. If Robert does well, he might get a promotion and some time off to take his sons on vacation – but if the Majestic doesn't get the sixth star, he'll lose his job.

Then jewel thief Lord Rutledge (Everett) checks into the hotel in hopes of stealing valuables with his specially trained orangutan, Dunston. After fleeing his malevolent master, Dunston inevitably causes mayhem wherever he goes. Eventually, he meets Robert's younger son Kyle (Lloyd), with whom he soon forms a close bond. Unfortunately, things get much more difficult when Robert catches sight of Dunston and calls in the determined but inept animal control officer Buck LeFarge (Reubens) to get rid of the orangutan.

This movie provides examples of:

  • A Boy and His X: Kyle, a lonely boy without any friends (barring his older brother, who's increasingly taking an interest in girls), meets Dunston, a former circus monkey now trained as a jewel thief belonging to the evil Lord Rutledge. The two form a genuine friendship—Kyle is happy to have someone to take care of, while Dunston is glad to find a kind playmate.
  • Affably Evil: Lord Rutledge is a charming, witty bon vivant who enjoys telling stories and chatting with beautiful women. He's also an unrepentant jewel thief and isn't afraid to use death threats against anyone who crosses him, including children.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Brian is constantly allured by and flirting with the guests as he and Kyle pursue Dunston.
  • All Women Are Lustful: Rutledge's first victim and former flame, Mrs. Dellacroce, is a little too happy to be spending the week at the hotel without her husband; she proceeds to spend her time flirting with multiple men, even after she falls for the masseuse.
  • And This Is for...: After Robert (with help from Brian) successfully overpowers Lord Rutledge, he rears back with a haymaker and says "This is for tying up my kid."
  • The Atoner: Robert becomes this after he realizes that Kyle was telling the truth about Dunston.
  • Babies Ever After: The final scene shows that Dunston is in Bali and has a baby with his mate.
  • Benevolent Boss:
    • Robert may be harried and short-tempered when it comes to his sons, but he genuinely cares about his staff and works as hard as he can to keep them happy. It's best seen early in the film: Mrs. DuBrow orders him to fire a clerk just for the heck of it, but he instead gives the young woman a week's paid vacation, getting her out of the hotel while Mrs. DuBrow is there.
    • Mr. DuBrow himself is also a good guy—he's genuinely concerned with customer survey responses and treats Robert with respect and decency. At the end of the film, when Robert quits working for Mrs. DuBrow, Mr. DuBrow comes to see him and personally asks him to take the job back, saying that he's a great manager and clearly skilled at running a hotel. The two men eventually decide to open a new branch of the Majestic in Bali, much to everyone's satisfaction.
  • Bound and Gagged: Kyle ends up this way when Rutledge discovers Dunston's hiding place. This leads to a Painful Adhesive Removal for him when Dunston finds him and pulls his gag off.
  • Butt-Monkey/Chew Toy: Lionel Spaulding is often the victim of pratfalls and other forms of comedic abuse. Lampshaded when LaFarge slaps him:
    "Why is everyone in this hotel always slapping me?!"
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Buck LaFarge; being played by Paul Reubens helps.
  • Comically Missing the Point: While discussing the Four Seasons with potential patrons, Robert sees Dunston appear in the window behind them, and curses in surprise.
  • Conveniently Timed Attack from Behind: Just as Rutledge gets an advantage on Robert during the kitchen fight, Brian smacks him in the face with a mop.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Mrs. DuBrow, who owns the Majestic, is a class-A example: she's cruel, petty, implied to be racist, and generally treats Robert like a personal servant rather than a peer or even an employee. Subverted with her husband, who's as nice a guy as can be (and takes special delight when she gets a literal case of just deserts in the finale).
  • Crocodile Tears: Invoked by Robert with Consuela, the young clerk who Mrs. DuBrow tells him to fire. He tells Consuela that he's giving her a paid vacation on the condition that she runs out of his office fake-crying. Confused but happy, Consuela does just that, successfully tricking Mrs. DuBrow into thinking she's been let go.
  • Dead Partner: Dunston used to work with his brother Samson, and he has a photo of the two of them together with Rutledge. It's heavily implied that Rutledge killed Samson for failing him in the past.
  • Description Cut: "As of this moment, (Brian and Kyle) are both on their best behavior." Cut to Kyle, Brian, and Dunston making a mess of a hotel room they snuck into.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The movie starts with Brian and Kyle attempting to prank a hotel employee whose only crime was taking their frisbee when they threw it towards the buffet table.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Played for Laughs during the big kitchen fight between Robert and Lord Rutledge. The two use whatever weapons they can get their hands on, but when Rutledge grabs a bottle of wine, Robert stops him: "NO! NO! That's the Chateau Lafite." Rutledge immediately puts it down gently and finds something else to attack. For those not in the know, Chateau Lafite Rothschild is one of France's oldest vineyards and makes some of the most expensive red wines in the world—a single bottle usually costs at least $1,000, and the more expensive vintages have netted prices of over a hundred thousand dollars.
  • Evil Is Petty: Mrs. DuBrow puts Robert up to firing one of his own employees simply because she hadn't made such a request in months. Her latest victim? A young and very kindly female clerk who had bumped into her completely by accident.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: When Brian and Kyle try to warn their father that Lord Rutledge is dangerous, they show him a photo of the aristocrat with Dunston and Samson, the older of the two orangutans. Robert is confused: "It's a picture of Rutledge and two monkeys." He takes a moment...and then realizes that since Lord Rutledge is only traveling with one monkey, he must have killed the other.
  • Food Porn: A fair share of this given that it's set at a five-star hotel.
  • Funny Background Event: Robert finally realizes Dunston is real when he sees the orangutan playing around in the greenhouse behind his office during a meeting with two elderly women who he's wooing for donations. He immediately goes to try and capture Dunston, who attacks instead. Cue Robert flailing around the greenhouse, screaming, and generally making a fool of himself, all while the women casually wonder where he's gone (the window to the greenhouse is soundproof, so they can't hear him).
    • Happens again to LaFarge who’s called in to capture Dunston; this time Dunston gets their attention and the potential clients decide to leave.
  • Genre Savvy: Lord Rutledge tracks down Dunston by looking up which suites ordered the most bananas via room service.
  • Grew a Spine: Robert spends most of the film unable to talk back to Mrs. DuBrow and acquiescing to all of her demands. When she attacks Kyle during the Crystal Ball, though, he finally gains the courage to stand up to her, quit his job, and become the owner and manager of a new hotel in Bali, where he and his family are much happier.
  • Hammy Herald: "DuBrow alert!"
  • Hated by All: Mrs. Dubrow is disliked and feared the Majestic hotel staff. When it seemed like Robert fired a clerk named Consuela for bumping into her earlier and wanted someone fired for no reason, when really Robert gave a paid vacation because Mrs. Dubrow never remembers who she wants him to fire, everybody gives her a Death Glare for doing so. It’s implied even her husband doesn’t like her that much.
  • Here We Go Again!: Lionel Spaulding checks into the Grants' new hotel in Bali, and, almost immediately, Dunston starts causing trouble for him again.
  • "Home Alone" Antics: The boys put their prank-playing expertise to use foiling a jewel thief.
  • Hotel Hellion: Kyle and Brian play pranks on the hotel guests for fun. Naturally things only escalate when Dunston shows up.
  • Improvised Weapon: The fight in the kitchen. Among the implements used are a ladle, a whisk, and a 20-pound bag of coffee beans. And a wine bottle, almost:
    Grant: NO! NO! That's the Chateau Lafite.
    <Rutledge looks at the bottle>
    Rutledge: Good year.
    <puts it away, fighting resumes>
  • Large Ham: Lord Rutledge, played by none other than Rupert Everett.
    • Also the Comically Serious Buck LaFarge, courtesy of Paul Reubens.
    • Finally, Mrs. DuBrow to a lesser extent.
  • Make an Example of Them: Mrs. DuBrow makes a habit of commanding Robert to fire random employees for the pettiest of reasons just to keep the staff in a state of constant fear and thus less prone to mistakes. We see this in action when she tells him to terminate Consuela, a good-natured clerk who committed the horrible "crime" of bumping into Mrs. DuBrow by accident. Subverted when Robert instead gives her a week's paid vacation, effective immediately...on the condition that she runs out of his office pretending to cry.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": The entire hotel goes into panic whenever Mrs. DuBrow shows up.
  • Mean Boss: Mrs. DuBrow, who has no problem firing her own employees just for the pure heck of it; she even has a hotel alert named for her by her staff whenever she turns up in person.
  • Mistaken for Special Guest: Robert and Mrs. DuBrow think Lord Rutledge is the Le Monde agent, when really it's Lionel Spaulding.
  • Missing Mom: Kyle and Brian's mother has died, and it's clearly putting a strain on both Kyle (who misses her and doesn't have any friends to play with) and Robert (it's implied that he's throwing himself into his work as the Majestic's manager to help cope with the loss).
  • Mood Whiplash: In one scene, Rutledge is disguising himself as an employee, and in a few minutes it goes from Dunston annoying him with his antics to Rutledge pulling what seems to be a blade on him to force him to go to his room.
  • Nice Guy: Mr. DuBrow is much friendlier than his shrew of a wife.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The boys spend their time in the presidential suite ordering all kinds of meals for Dunston (and themselves), every one of them containing bananas. Unfortunately for them, they didn't count on Lord Rutledge hacking into the hotel's room service records.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Assuming Lord Rutledge to be the undercover agent observing the hotel's day-to-day services, Mrs. DuBrow does everything in her power to woo him in the hopes of the hotel being awarded a sixth star; In doing so, she completely ignores the true hotel agent, Lionel Spaulding, who after all of the abuse he's endured tells her at the end that she's instead been downgraded to one star.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: When Dunston seems to be reluctant to hand over the jewels he stole to Lord Rutledge, the aristocrat starts reminiscing about the orangutan's older brother Samson. As he does, he reveals that his cane has some kind of weapon attached, and he casually gestures with it—"Samson liked to play games, didn't he, Dunston?" Dunston immediately relents and hands over the gems. It's the fact that we don't know exactly what Rutledge did to Samson—only that it was obviously lethal and painful—that makes the threat so menacing.
  • Papa Wolf: Robert spends most of the film as a Non-Action Guy, but when he hears that Rutledge physically attacked and bound Kyle, the gloves come off. Robert also finally stands up to Mrs. DuBrow when he sees her manhandle the boy during the Crystal Ball—no one touches his son.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: The boys dress up Dunston as a wheelchair-bound doctor in a fedora and heavy coat, but are unable to disguise his face. Suffice to say, it works anyway.
  • Precision F-Strike: When seeing Dunston:
    Robert HOLY SHIT!!!
  • Put on a Bus: In-universe example; Mr. DuBrow comes to see Kyle and Dunston in person while Mrs. DuBrow is away "scouting hotel sites in Alaska".
  • Rewatch Bonus: Lionel Spaulding taking advantage of all of the hotel's various amenities, including the gym, a tea service delivered to his room, and a personal dog walker, make a lot more sense when you learn that he's actually the agent from Le Monde trying to determine if the Majestic deserves a sixth star—obviously part of that job is to see if the hotel is truly as luxurious as it claims.
  • Secret-Keeper: Brian becomes this in regards to Kyle's friendship with Dunston.
  • Sibling Team: Kyle and Brian team up to pull pranks on hotel guests.
  • Shout-Out: Kyle has a Spider-Man doll.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: After Dunston has thoroughly crashed the evening ball, Mrs. DuBrow goes into yet another angry tirade against Robert for the antics of his kids. His response:
    Robert: Mrs. DuBrow!
    Mrs. DuBrow: WHAT?!
    Robert: ...Have you tried the cake? (shoves a huge chunk of it in her face)
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: When Robert sees Dunston, he calls LaFarge — for all he knows, the orangutan could be dangerous. In most comedy works with primates, all characters treat them as harmless. While Dunston ''isn't harmless, the film does acknowledge that primates can be dangerous.
  • Trailers Always Lie: A teaser trailer begins with a Christmas theme, only with Dunston coming down the chimney rather than Santa Claus. While the movie premiered in the winter, it doesn't take place around Christmastime.
  • Tropical Epilogue: The family adopt Dunston and move to a hotel in Bali, simultaneously giving themselves that holiday they always wanted (even if it's rather a Busman's Holiday for Robert) and giving Dunston a more suitable home.
  • Trust Me, I'm a Doctor: When attempting to hide Dunston in a hotel room, the brothers check him in under a name randomly picked from the phone book, and just for good measure, make him a doctor:
    Brian: Got it. Lam Binh Ngoc. Doctor Lam Binh Ngoc. If the hotel thinks you're a doctor, you can get away with anything.
  • Verbal Judo: Between Lord Rutledge, Robert, and Mrs. DuBrow:
    Lord Rutledge: Well, from the look of the soup, it appears one of the chefs has a severe hair loss problem. Other than that, it was absolutely delightful. Good night.
    Mrs. DuBrow: Well? How was his meal?
    Mr. Grant: Well, I believe he used the words "absolutely delightful".
  • Would Hurt a Child: During the climax, when Kyle prevents LaFarge from shooting Dunston, a furious Mrs.DuBrow tries to catch the boy. Dunston saves Kyle by knocking DuBrow into a huge cake.
  • You Are Grounded!: After Kyle and Brian pull a prank on hotel guests in the beginning of the movie.