In 1979, only three feature films into a career that already included Jaws and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Steven Spielberg directed his first failure, a ridiculously juvenile World War II comedy about a fictional Japanese attack on Los Angeles and the chaos it releases. Now, for the first time on videotape, you can enjoy nearly two and a half hours of flaccid comedy courtesy of this director's cut of 1941. Many stars—from the then-red-hot Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi to Slim Pickens and Toshiro Mifune—make appearances, but it's of little use. When a ventriloquist's dummy (approximate cost: $40) has nearly all of a multimillion-dollar film's funniest moments, something has clearly gone wrong. With a numbing amount of pyrotechnics and choreographed large-scale slapstick, Spielberg and screenwriters Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale buy into the crash- and explosion-as-punchline school of comedy, and it simply doesn't work. Some memorable characters might have helped, but, with a cast as huge as 1941's, every appearance feels like a cameo. Because it's Spielberg, it's busy, it looks great, and some of the gags are well-timed, but it's telling that a key set piece is a tank ramming through a paint factory while a concussion-addled Aykroyd covers his face with pantyhose, obscures his eyes with fruit, and claims to be a fly. Though some puerile, 12-year-old-boy-level naked-lady jokes and toilet humor distract from the explosive shenanigans—and though the film, as any veteran could probably verify, makes World War II look like a lot of fun—1941, in any form, should be avoided by all but the morbidly curious.
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