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1994 - PG - 90 Mins.
Director: Paul Flaherty
Starring: Martin Short, Charles Grodin, Mary Steenburgen, Dabney Coleman, Seth Binzer
Review by: John Ulmer
The thin line between insanity and brilliance often amazes me. On one hand we have films like "Clifford," the 1994 box office disaster starring Charles Grodin and Martin Short, that everyone claimed was one of the worst films of all time. Then we have the "Being John Malkovich"es, that are so strange and weird, yet everyone calls them masterpieces. What's the difference? One is a comedy people went into expecting something straight-forward, and the other is a piece of art? Puh-lease.

The tagline for "Clifford" reads, "What's the difference between Clifford and a pit bull? One will tear your heart out, scare your friends and wreck your house. The other one is a dog." If you found that tagline funny, "Clifford" is for you. If not, then it is not for you. Personal taste comes into play here very much.

I personally enjoy "Clifford." Call me a horrible filmgoer, I don't care. It's just with all the crap I've seen in my days, "Clifford" is not only a pretty good movie when compared to others, but also a refreshingly naughty comedy. It unfortunately falls apart in the last ten minutes, really getting crazy. But then again, so did "Malkovich."

The film opens up in the year 2050. A young troublemaker is trying to escape from a futuristic private school. He is stopped, however, by Father Clifford (Martin), who looks like Dick Clark's lovechild with...well...Martin Short. Anyway, Clifford sits the boy down and teaches him a lesson. He tells him a story from when he was younger, and when he was a practical joker. More like a homicidal maniac.

Clifford's story begins in present day. Clifford is now a small boy, but he is still played by Martin Short, oddly enough. At first he appears a normal enough child, happy and bright and just a bit overly creepy. Clifford and his parents are on a flight to Hawaii for business purposes. Clifford wants to land in LA to visit "Dinosaur World," a theme park that I would have loved to visit when I was a dinosaur-crazy kid myself.

Through Clifford's evil, creepy and manipulative ways, he gets into the cockpit and almost crashlands the plane. The pilot decides to land in LA to make sure the aircraft is unharmed.

In LA, Clifford's parents drop him off with his Uncle Martin (Charles Grodin), an aspiring architect, busy with his fiancee (Mary Steenburgen) and plans for a new Los Angeles subway route. His pesky boss (Dabney Coleman) is always on Uncle Martin's case, so he has barely enough time to devote to Clifford. Clifford's parents leave, they fly back to Hawaii, and Clifford gets anxious. He wants - or needs - to visit Dinosaur World as soon as possible, and Uncle Martin just keeps blowing him off. This makes Clifford mad.

You may be wondering what happens when Clifford gets mad. In all truth, it's best not to spoil it. He doesn't turn green, he doesn't grow extremely large and bear muscles - he just unleashes ultimate havoc upon those opposing him. Take, for example, the scene where Clifford, mad at his Uncle Martin for going back on his word (he said he'd take Clifford to Dino World and didn't), puts hot sauce in Uncle Martin's bloody mary, so that when Uncle Martin goes to propose a toast his throat gets a bit hoarse. Or when Clifford pieces together recordings of his uncle to make it sound as if he has a bomb planted under City Hall.

Clifford is the ultimate pest, a spawn of Satan. Everyone knows someone like Clifford, but Martin Short stretches his character a bit more. Clifford is an odd child. He responds with gleeful joy and says things like, "Oh, yes, my dear Uncle Martin!" We are supposed to sympathize with Clifford by the end of the film, but the problem is that we don't know how or what to sympathize with. Short makes Clifford more of a devil than a rascal, and we never truly get the sense that he is a human. By the end of the film, we're not all that sure if Clifford is human or not, or whether that evil streak is gone, and that is one of the film's flaws. Other than that, it's a general OK comedy. People don't seem to like it very much - at all - but I have seen much, much worse, and in all truth I actually laughed at this movie. More than once. Which is more than I can say for films like "Daddy Day Care." Yep, "Clifford" is OK by me.
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

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