‘Mr. Destiny’ Reveals the Perils of Nostalgia

The 1990 Jim Belushi clunker coaxed this critic into giving it a passing grade (once)

There’s a real danger in revisiting a movie you remember loving in your youth, creating the possibility that time has not been as kind as your memory.

Some films remain timeless, aging well and maintaining their classic caliber in spite of being produced decades ago. It’s something of a comfort to know some movies will always be great, as their perfection is hermetically sealed in the protective layer of cinema history.

Then, there’s movies like “Mr. Destiny,” which I adored when it came out 30 years ago.

To say the least, my fond memories of this movie, (which, prior to reviewing it for this article, I last saw in 1990) have faded like sleep after a splash of ice-cold water to the face.

James Orr’s Disney comedy stars James Belushi as Larry Burrows, a man who seemingly has it all: a gorgeous, affectionate and encouraging wife (played by no less than a pre-“T2” Linda Hamilton), a loyal best friend (Jon Lovitz), a well-paying job and a comfortable life in a quaint small town.

However, Burrows is forever haunted by a high school baseball game, where he struck out; he blames all the “failures” that came afterwards on this event, which he considered a literal game changer.

After Burrows endures the worst day of his life, he takes solace in a bar with garish pink neon and a friendly bartender named Mike (Michael Caine). After sharing his hardships with Mike, Larry exits the bar to live in an alternate universe, an altogether new life, an existence of wealth and power…all stemming from a world where he actually didn’t strike out at the big game.

Here is one of those knuckle-headed premises where someone believes their life would be better if they won THE BIG GAME. “The Best of Times” (1986) had Robin Williams and Kurt Russell and couldn’t make this premise work, either.

The Best of Times Official Trailer #1 - Robin Williams Movie (1986) HD

Some movies can be chalked up as guilty pleasures, or how my mom would deem some dumb, flavorless comedies as “cute.” I can’t be that forgiving, as I’m really embarrassed about this one, a cornball, highly unoriginal rip-off of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and elements of “A Christmas Carol” and “Back to the Future.”

The whole premise would get a spin a decade later in the far more layered and richly emotional “The Family Man” (2000).

Belushi is handsome and works hard, but he’s so oafish and obvious in his timing, you sense immediately how this might have worked with Tom Hanks in the lead. Belushi’s touch is too heavy handed. Caine is so utterly likeable, most will miss how he’s actually playing the devil; his Mike, or Mr. Destiny, is a threat, a menace and a cosmic prankster, not a folksy angel.

The movie doesn’t seem to realize that Caine is actually the heavy.

By the way, Hamilton’s character name is Ellen Ripley, which is like naming your male lead Han Solo.

Poor Rene Russo, whose role is reduced to a sex joke (isn’t it great that I slept with the boss’s wife?)- to see how quickly Belushi jumps in bed with her is to fall entirely out of love with his character. Hamilton may be playing a woman he’s been married to for too long, but she’s lovely, obviously a great wife and dotes on him; this jerk doesn’t think twice about cheating on her and we’re supposed to find his infidelity as a charming triumph.

Lovitz is, oddly enough, playing the exact same role he played in “Big.” Courtney Cox is stuck playing a literal ball buster, Kathy Ireland has the indignity of playing an easily duped rebound girl for Belushi’s dad (a role even worse than her lead turn in “Alien from L.A.”).

These poor actresses are stuck playing truly degrading characters. The only one who nails their assignment is Hart Bochner, once again pitch perfect as a slimy human being (i.e., “Die Hard,” Supergirl,” etc.).

Writer/director Orr is no Frank Capra or Steven Spielberg, though he tries to steal from both without getting caught. Orr previously directed the great “Young Harry Houdini” TV movie for “The Wonderful World of Disney” and, following the box office failure of this movie, scored a mid-range hit with the equally forgettable/regrettable Chevy Chase vehicle, “Man of the House” (1995).

This feels like a heavily re-shot movie: note how forced the final appearance is of a dog who, insanely, is killed off. Watch how badly that last scene is, ending the whole thing on a dumb one-liner. This plays like a sitcom without a laugh track, literally. You can actually count the moments where the laughter would allegedly go, except this is barely funny.

“Mr. Destiny” celebrates materialism and sexism in a way that is very 1980s, though it aims for a tsk-tsk-ing of yuppie entitlement. If you didn’t buy it in “Wall Street” or (a year after this one came out) when this was covered in “The Doctor,” “Regarding Henry” or “The Super,” you won’t buy it here, either.

FAST FACT: “Mr. Destiny” rang up a modest $15 million at the U.S. box office in 1990.

This is such a weird film – in the end, when Belushi is back to his former life, we don’t even miss his alternate universe kids, who are now dead and erased from a world that no longer exists. There’s even a car chase and, the irredeemable moment, a miniature golf montage set to Spencer Davis’ “Gimme Some Lovin.”

Allow me to elaborate: alternate world Belushi takes alternate world Hamilton on a date to a Mexican-themed miniature golf course, in which they must wear sombreros while they play (because sombreros are hilarious, right?).

The scene lasts for the duration of the song, which is a very long three minutes. Mr. Orr, I suspect you’re a nice guy, but when you have a sequence comprised of golf balls going into holes, broken up by shots of your stars making cutesy faces to one another while wearing giant sombreros, you should consider how torturous this is for your audience to endure.

By the way, Hamilton’s character name is Ellen Ripley, which is like naming your male lead Han Solo. At least “Mr. Destiny” offers, of all things, a portrait of cinema’s most sensitive and understanding tow truck driver.

About Last Night (1986) - Trailer

In the right role, Belushi is perfect – “About Last Night…” and “Return to Me” come quickly to mind. He’s worked with Edward Zwick, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Walter Hill, David Lynch, Oliver Stone and John Hughes. The comparison to him and his late brother John has always been unfair, as two careers could not be more different, though they both were “Saturday Night Live” cast members.

He’s a talented actor but in the wrong role or wrong movie or (in this case) both, he goes down with the ship.

I really enjoyed this movie when it came out and am now horrified by my momentary poor taste during adolescence. This is such a shallow, tonally off lark, the kind of movie that helps eat up time on a long flight but is otherwise best forgotten.

What were they thinking when they made this and what was I thinking when I liked it? If only I could step into a bar with glowing pink neon, order a drink and have Mr. Destiny change the time when I saw this movie.

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