Dead Again, Hysterical Satire

DATELINE: Reincarnation Mystery

kookoo mystery Kookoo Noir Takeoff

There was a time nearly 30 years ago when Kenneth Branagh was considered the reincarnation of Orson Welles, with a dollop of Laurence Olivier thrown into the mix.

So, the time has arrived to re-assess one of his early efforts called Dead Again from 1991.

He was a promising and brilliant director of unusual fare and acted well too. This looney mystery deviated from his usual Shakespearean play adaptations by entering the film noir, detective story, broadly copying Warner and Parmount features of the late 1940s.

What most missed back then was the fact that this overwrought tale of reincarnation and murder was overdone deliberately. We cannot believe Branagh was dumb enough to think this was not a comedy.

The film does double duty: telling a modern case of a detective Mike Church in LA today, and the strange killer, Roman Strauss, a composer and conductor of 1948, who was executed for murdering his wife. The black and white noir flashbacks are spot on for 1940s imitation. Dick Powell and Lizabeth Scott are suitably channeled.

Branagh is a little weird as a detective (his reincarnated self) who is an LA sleuth with a Brooklyn accent. That might be the first mistake, or first clue.

The cast is equally impressive, with Emma Thompson as Strauss’s wife, the concert pianist victim, and the modern woman with amnesia that Church must help.

Call in Derek Jacobi as some kind of psychic hypnotist to regress the woman to 1948, and you have another brilliant performer slightly out of place in an American movie.

Also hanging around in cameos are Robin Williams, Scott Campbell, and Andy Garcia. This film is no slouch when it comes to top-level talent. Yes, Wayne Knight is here too.

We are a sucker when it comes to transgender resurrection and timeless love stories.

Everyone immediately notices that Emma Thompson resembles a woman dead in 1948, but no one seems to notice that Kenneth Branagh resembles her convicted murderer, executed in 1949.

Oh, well, that’s Life Magazine for you. In the meantime, the movie moves more and more toward utter lunacy, skipping over plot holes like hopscotch gone to bad karma.

We like our twist of reincarnation with a bitter of gender bending. Add some lemons and you have Branagh imitating Paramount and Warner Brothers murder mystery thrillers of the 1940s with panache. We are Between Two Worlds and the Two Mrs. Carrolls.

Like a warm British beer, this movie is all frothy, and the suds will make you queasy. It’s eye-rolling fun.



The Last Dramatic Performance of Robin Williams



Somewhere along the way during the past 40 years, Robin Williams became beloved of several generations.

Now he has died, apparently of his own volition, and the hue and cry seems to indicate that the world has lost the Olivier of Humor. Quite frankly, he used to get under our skin more often than not..

We had a few calls to tell us of his passing—so he was clearly more important and beloved than we suspected.

We have to admit we were surprised when he turned in impressive dramatic performances. That should not surprise us in terms of history: Jackie Gleason, Bill Murray, Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, and an endless list of funny men had a dark side that could only be satisfied with performances about dark, unhappy men in miserable settings.

These dramatic films contrasted with their original images, but seemed to bring them some sort of artistic satisfaction. Williams lately had played presidents on film, and had even taken a turn or two at killers.

We have to say we preferred this to the nonsensical stuff of Ork aliens—or his slightly crackpot films. He was best when someone reined him in. Alas, he was unable to rein himself in—and suffered substance and alcohol abuse.

All these issues probably covered some worse neurosis or two. As Red Skeleton once said, if he weren’t in the humor business, they’d have locked him up years ago.

Now we no longer have Robin Williams to kick around. Will his end taint his achievements? Probably not, and you can look for some super-charged Academy Awards tribute at the next edition of the Oscars.