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Film / Nothing but Trouble

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Welcome to Valkenvania, where your first offense will likely be your last...

"All they wanted was a little getaway. All they got was... Nothing But Trouble."

A 1991 comedy film written (from a story by his brother Peter) and directed by Dan Aykroydhis only turn in the director's chair to date. It stars Aykroyd (in a dual role), Chevy Chase, John Candy (also in a dual role), and Demi Moore (in one of her first post-Brat Pack films).

Chase plays Chris Thorne, a financial publisher with his own newsletter. At a party, he meets financial lawyer Diane Lightson (Moore), who he offers to drive to Atlantic City for an important meeting. Tagging along are two of Chris' wealthiest clients, eccentric Brazillian siblings Fausto (Taylor Negron) and Renalda (Bertila Damas). During their trip through the country, they make an ill-advised detour through the mining town of Valkenvania, where they are menaced by the corrupt and tyrannical Justice Alvin Valkenheiser (Aykroyd) and his family.

Not to be confused with the 1944 film starring Laurel and Hardy.

This film contains the examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Eldona, an overweight woman played by John Candy in drag, wants to marry Chris, whether he wants to or not (and her grandfather JP is more than happy to help her arrange this).
  • All Crimes Are Equal: J.P. Valkenheiser runs a courtroom still operating under feudal law in modern-day American coal country. This gives him the power to execute people for anything varying from attempted murder of one of his officers to running a stop sign.
  • Amusement Park of Doom: "Mister Bonestripper" is a rollercoaster ride through the scrapyard that ends with the passengers being thrown into a machine that strips them to the bone.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: The JP forces Chris to marry his granddaughter Eldona, the alternative being execution for running a stop sign (and being a banker!). He agrees to go through the ceremony since he figures it will give him an opportunity to escape, but after tying the knot he immediately gets caught.
  • Anticipatory Breath Spray: Thorne initially orders his driver to take Diane to Atlantic City before he sees her emerge out of the elevator looking all fine. He tells the driver to give him the keys and a dose of his breath spray.
  • Artificial Limbs: The JP has a wooden leg, the result of World War I.
  • Asshole Victims:
  • Bald of Evil: The insane judge is completely bald underneath his wig.
  • The Bad Guys Are Cops: The state police are actually aware of J.P. Valkenheiser's activities, but conspire with him to kill criminals who wriggled their way through the ordinary American justice system.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Fausto, who makes a dramatic escape with his sister Renalda to protect her from the Valkenheisers, guiding her through the junkyard and coaxing her across the foul-smelling moat. Her calling him a Hero was well-earned.
  • Bloodless Carnage: The "Bonestripper" lives up to its name; the bones that fly out are completely clean, and not a drop of blood is ever seen the entire movie.
  • Bribe Backfire: Thorne (and later on a bunch of asshole yuppies) try to bribe their way off being arrested in Valkenvania... the problem is that the J.P. is not only a Hanging Judge, but also a man who hates (and that is murderously loathes) rich people ("bankers!"). The only time a bribe works, it's because the deputy was already deciding to do a "Screw This, I'm Outta Here" and the implied job offer sounded interesting.
  • Brick Joke: The J.P. earlier mentions that the stock certificates his ancestors were swindled into buying are worth “JUST ABOUT THE FINEST OUTHOUSE WALLPAPER YOU’VE EVER SEEN!” Before the quake caused by the coal fires swallows up the outhouse Miss Purdah’s in, the door opens to show that the J.P. did indeed use the stock certificates for that very purpose.
  • The Capital of Brazil Is Buenos Aires: Both Fausto and Renalda, supposedly Brazilian characters, speak Spanish as their first language. Furthermore, they are repeatedly mentioned to be Brazilian but a Freeze-Frame Bonus shows that their passports are Argentinean.
  • Cavalry Betrayal: After escaping from Judge Valkenheiser's grasp, Chris and Diane go back with an entire army of state troopers in tow to arrest the Hanging Judge. It becomes obvious that they're ALL in league with Valkenheiser when they turn their weapons on the pair.
  • Cool Car: Chris' 1983 BMW 733i and Dennis' heavily modified 1977 Dodge Monaco cruiser.
  • Cool Old Guy: Judge Valkenheiser, crazed though he may be, has enough intelligence to automate his house with awesome and deadly gadgets plus plays a mean organ as shown when Digital Underground performs for the court.
  • Cops Need the Vigilante: A Played for Horror reveal: the state police knows perfectly well that J.P. Valkenheiser is a murderous Hanging Judge and not only do nothing about it but send him criminals to get rid of covertly. Chris and Diane discover this while surrounded by the army of cops that came to "arrest" the Judge after they first escaped and the Judge himself all acting chummy, and the massive collapse of Valkenvania happens just in time to interrupt what seemed to be our heroes being murdered to silence them.
  • Crosscast Role: John Candy plays both Dennis Valkenheiser and his sister Eldona Valkenheiser.
  • Defector from Decadence: Chief Dennis Valkenheiser is shown to object somewhat to his J.P. grandfather's severe punishments of even non-criminals. He eventually decides to resign and take a job offer from the rich Brazilian brother and sister by helping them escape.
  • Defensive Feint Trap: When one of the drug dealers threatens Dennis with a gun, he fakes distress before producing a Walther MPL.
  • Diplomatic Immunity: During their first hearing, Renalda claims that she and her brother have diplomatic immunity. Whether that's true or not (and from the glimpse of their Agentine passports, they're not), it does them absolutely no good.
  • Disney Villain Death: Miss Purdah is last seen inside the outhouse as it falls into the collapsing mine fire below the manor grounds.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: God help you, God really, really help you if you're a banker (or work on some business that people could describe (even if highly erroneously) as "banker") and the JP gets you. No amount of fame, fortune or begging will save you from being sentenced harshly, or maybe even killed and disappeared without a trace, just for being a "banker".
  • Distinction Without a Difference: When Judge Valkenheiser and Chris first meet, the Judge deems Chris "a banker" when in reality Chris is a financial publisher - an analyst that publishes a newsletter. Chris even tries to explain only for the Judge to insist on the "banker" label. This detail becomes much more important later in the film, in a worse way that Chris expected.
  • The End... Or Is It?: Valkenvania is destroyed when the mine fire finally takes it toll on the mine shafts and causes a massive collapse, and the heroes make it back home when a news report reveals that the hick Hanging Judge is still alive and is going to pay his "grandson-in-law" a visit.
  • Evil Laugh: Valkenheiser cackles evilly when Chris and Diane walk right into a trap set for them by Valkenheiser's friends in the state police.
  • Evil Old Folks: The J.P. is friggin' ancient, being a 106-year old Hanging Judge. He's almost completely immobile and depends on his grandchildren for muscle.
  • Feet-First Introduction: The deputy sheriff is introduced shoes first as he gets out of his police cruiser.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Or Plot Hole, take your pick: Fausto and Renalda are mentioned several times to be Brazilian but Renalda's passport is shown in an early scene and it says it's from Argentina.
  • Government Conspiracy: The FBI and New Jersey state officials are well aware that Judge Valkenheiser's court is operating completely outside the US legal system, even sending him difficult criminals to execute so they don't have to deal with the red tape. So when the two leads try to report what they've seen in Valkenvania to the authorities, they walk right into Valkenheiser's trap.
  • Gratuitous Rap: Digital Underground's appearance in the middle of the movie.
  • The Grotesque: Bobo and Lil' Debbul, two extremely fat manchildren wearing diapers. Despite apparently being Alvin's nephews, they're "not allowed in the house."
  • Hanging Judge: JP Alvin Valkenheiser. He rules his courtroom like a tyrant, and executes anyone he hates (especially stinkin' bankers!) by sentencing them to a ride on the "Bonestripper".
  • Hates Rich People: Judge Alvin Valkenheiser harbors a furious hatred of bankers and anyone else involved in the financial industry. His family were the victims of a Morally Bankrupt Banker who got them to make several bad investments back during the First World War. Since Valkenheiser is a powerful Hanging Judge in his own right, just being a "banker" is enough reason for him to levy a death sentence.
  • He Knows Too Much: At the end, the two leads are about to be murdered by the state troopers for having caught on to their conspiracy with Valkenheiser when a Deus ex Machina saves them.
  • Historical In-Joke/Stock Unsolved Mysteries: While searching for a way out of the Valkenvania house, Diane and Chris find a Room Full of Crazy containing the IDs of everyone the judge has killed... with one of them being Jimmy Hoffa's.
  • Impact Silhouette: The very last gag.
  • Insistent Terminology: Chris tells Judge Valkenheiser that he's a financial publisher, not a banker. Old Alvin claims otherwise.
  • Kangaroo Court: Dan Aykroyd's crazy judge presides over this kind of court. One of the characters recognizes that his court is operating by pre-Magna Carta English law, which really did give judges this kind of power. And God help you if you're a banker... However, when a group of hip hop artists appear before him, he quickly waves all charges, stating that they're performing a service for the common good.
  • Leitmotif:
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Chris’s response to Judge Valkenheiser’s taunting in the climax, shortly before he causes a diversion:
    Chris: All right, you old liver spot…
  • Mickey Mousing: The bones that come out of Mr. Bonestripper make pinball-sounds when they hit the target sign nearby.
  • Morally Bankrupt Banker: The JP fully believes that anyone involved in finance is morally bankrupt, ever since his grandfather made a bad deal with a genuinely corrupt one while he was off fighting in World War 1. And since he's a Hanging Judge, that means death to any "banker" he can get his hands on.
  • No Ending: After escaping from Valkenvania, Chris spots the corrupt Judge Valkenveiser live and well on TV, freaks out so hard he runs through the wall leaving an Impact Silhouette...aaaand that's pretty much it. The whole team struggled to come up with an ending for this movie during production, and it shows.
  • Non-Identical Twins: Implied Trope. Dennis and Eldona Valkenheiser are only ever said to be brother and sister, but since they're both played by John Candy...
  • The Noseless: Judge Valkenheiser takes off his fake nose in his private quarters. Chris, who is secretly observing this from a wall cavity, has to restain himself from gagging.
  • Only the Leads Get a Happy Ending: Surprisingly inverted. Fausto, Renaldo, and Dennis, who vanish from the plot halfway through the film, are shown in the epilogue having moved to Rio, with Dennis taken the position of their head of security and is romantically involved with Renalda. Chris and Diane, meanwhile, are clearly still being targeted by the Judge, as shown in the final seconds of the film.
  • People Fall Off Chairs: When Chris learns that Judge Valkenheiser has survived the giant earthquake through a news report at the end, he literally falls off his couch.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Surprisingly averted. It seems to be the one thing the JP has in terms of being just. When he judges a group of hip hop artists, he actually lets them be on their way after asking them for a favor. Though the heroes also discover a newspaper clipping indicating that he executed a group of Hare Krishnas.
  • Portrait Painting Peephole: A painting of a fat lady in Chris and Diane's guest room at the mansion has cut-out eyes that are used by Eldona to spy on them.
  • Pretentious Latin Motto: The motto of the Valkenvania PD is apparently "Nihil Tolerantur" (zero tolerance). Considering the JP's methods, it might be understating the case.
  • Rant Inducing Slight: After a full evening of unlawful imprisonment, verbal abuse, and threat of execution from a pack of grotesque hicks, what finally pushes Fausto over the edge into his "Reason You Suck" Speech against the Valkenheisers is the Judge childishly using a toy catapult to launch a gherkin at Renalda.
  • Right Behind Me: Says Humpty-Hump about Purdah — "She is one ugly, cross-burning, redneck, peckerwood police bitch, man." Subverted in that Humpty doesn't care that Purdah heard what he said (though Purdah does harshly tell Humpty Hump and the other Digital Underground members to move it).
  • Room Full of Crazy: Late in the film, as Chris and Diane are exploring the J.P.’s home, they stumble on a trophy room virtually wallpapered with the driver’s licenses of, and news clippings related to, the other poor souls who’ve been stopped in Valkenvania, showing how long the Valkenheiser clan has been at this.
  • Small-Town Tyrant: Judge Alvin Valkenheiser! Valkenvania is basically his personal fiefdom (his mansion is even built like a castle, complete with moat; and his official title, "Shire Reeve", is the feudal version of a magistrate). Plus his whole operation consists of having his deputized family members arrest criminals (both real and imagined) who journey through the town before executing them so they can loot their cars and other belongings. Though while corrupt, the JP is not a "hick" in the traditional sense of the term, as illustrated by the fact that he has an Engineering Degree and that he's likely the one who heavily modified and automated his courthouse/mansion.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here / Impact Silhouette: Chris' reaction to the JP's plan to visit his "grandson-in-law" right at the ending.
  • Stripped to the Bone: Mister Bonestripper.
  • Suddenly Shouting: Judge Valkenheiser seems to be just a soft-spoken, senile old judge but when the foursome before him don't take him seriously and see the proceedings as a mere formality, he suddenly jumps out of his chair and raises his voice to scare them.
  • Sword Cane: The JP duels with Chris, who wields a femur.
  • Title Drop: Diane comments Chris is "nothing but trouble". The film also includes remnant drops from working titles (such as Judge Valkenheiser mentioning they're in his "Trickhouse" and all the times they mention the town's name of "Valkenvania").
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Valkenvania
  • Vanity Project: For Dan Aykroyd.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
    • Once while riding his motorcycle through the country, Dan Aykroyd was pulled over by a local cop, who hauled him into the Justice of the Peace's courthouse in the middle of the night for sentencing. Unlike Valkenheiser, the J.P. he faced was a fairly reasonable person — she charged him fifty dollars for speeding, then had a friendly talk with him over a pot of tea.
    • Also, the mostly-abandoned New Jersey town with coal fires burning beneath it for a century - though Centralia, Pennsylvania, has only been burning for fifty years as of 2012.
  • Villainous Friendship: When the town and the manor begin to collapse from the coal fires, the Judge is clearly aware of what a slow, horrible death that would be, and immediately yells to the state police to "RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!"
  • Villain with Good Publicity: J.P Valkenheiser. After making their escape, the heroes inform the state troopers about the Hanging Judge ruling Valkenvania like a dictator and executing anyone he pleases, but when they go back there it turns out that they all love the JP and his methods. They're about to dispose of the heroes instead for having seen too much when an earthquake destroys the town.
  • The Voiceless: Eldona. At first Christopher thinks she's just shy, but according to the JP she's mute.
  • The Walls Are Closing In: Chris and Diane are menaced by a wall moving in to crush them while they're sneaking around the Valkenheiser estate.
  • Wham Line: Chris and Diane show up at the mansion with an army of cops and state troopers, smirking as they prepare to see the judge hauled off in handcuffs. They turn...and every single cop smiles and yells in unison "Hi, Judge Alvin!" Too late, the heroes realize the cops not only know what he's doing it but approve of it.
  • What a Piece of Junk: At the beginning of the film, Christopher tries to outrun Dennis' patrol car, only to find out the hard way that the car's engine has been modified in such a way to be able to catch up with Thorne's top-of-the-line BMW. At the end of the film, Christopher and Diane escape an exploding Valkenvania using the nearly-totally-scrapped BMW, which still runs pretty well (Diane tried to start it earlier, but turned out that there was a fuel cut-off switch that was part of the car's alarm system).
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It's ultimately left unclear whether Eldona, Bobo and Lil Debbul died in the collapsing manor like Miss Purdah, or escaped like the Judge.