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LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Directed by Frank Oz; written by Howard Ashman; produced by David Geffen for Warner Brothers. Starring Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene. Rated PG-13 (risque humor, off-screen violence and a little vulgar language).


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This is definitely a funny movie. Funny ha-ha, you ask, or funny peculiar? Both, actually, although unfortunately a little more the latter than the former.

A movie about a bloodthirsty plant from outerspace that looks like a cabbage with lips and has extraordinary powers would have to be peculiar, no matter what else is involved.

But the oddest thing about Little Shop is that it's a real live musical. And not one like Cabaret, or some other "new" musical, either, where all the singing's on some kind of stage. But the old-fashioned kind, where people on the street break into song and even production numbers without warning ... definitely peculiar.

It does have its fair share of laughs, too, though, but mostly coming early on. A story as wildly ridiculous as Little Shop's, after all, is more fun to set up and anticipate than actually to see played through.

The abrupt turn-about in the fortunes of Mushnik's skid row flower shop as a result of the plant described above (named Audrey II by its discoverer) is quite amusing. And Steve Martin has an insanely hilarious few scenes as a sadistic dentist that are as good as anything he's ever done.

Rick Moranis is an appealing hero, the consummate nerd Seymour whose life is completely changed when he buys this strange plant during an unexpected solar eclipse. But he doesn't get to be much of a comedian here. And that's a shame because he can be quite funny (remember him as —a nerd again—Sigourney Weaver's neighbor in Ghostbusters?)

Greene is Audrey, Seymour's coworker and secret dream girl. Her character is funny for a while, but it's realy based on one joke—dumb blond in low-cut dress. And it doesn't wear well (the joke or the dress). Her best scene is one in which she imagines a suburban heaven for herself and Seymour consisting of Tupperware parties, manicured lawns and a garbage disposal.

The music itself provides a lot of Little Shop' s humor. The best songs come from a trio of Supremes look-alikes who comment on the action like a Greek chorus, but to the beat of Motown rock and roll. Martin's autobiographical song is also quite clever.

If the last half of Little Shop could have been as good as the first, it would be one of the best comedies of the year. But the story works against it. The most colorful characters get eaten by the plant, leaving plain vanilla Seymour and Audrey to finish it off and save the world.

Audrey II itself is more fun to watch in the early stages of its growth, too, when we're not really sure where it's going or what it's after. The plant at its largest is a wonder of special effects. But there are so many of those in movies nowadays. This one doesn't really stand out.

If you like strange movies, Little Shop is a must-see, since it will be a while before a stranger movie comes your way. It's just too bad it couldn't have been a little better, too.

January 21, 1987

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