Production Budget: $35 million
Worldwide Gross: around 10 million
Subsequent earnings: around $100 million
One sign that you might have a bomb is if the studio gives a director a blank check to make whatever film he wants. Town & Country, Adventures of Pluto Nash, and Heavens Gate are three examples of budgets ballooning out of proportion because of lavish spending (these movies will be reviewed later of course). Spielberg was given carte blanche to do whatever project he wanted. He wanted to make a musical/comedy based on actual events of a Japanese sub that made it near the American coast and the Zoot suit riots. The studio thought a musical wasn’t the best idea so Spielberg made the movie a spoof of the events.
Spielberg spent a lot of money to make this a big production. He hired big name stars like Toshiro Mifune, Robert Stack, Warren Oates, and SNL stars Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. Spielberg crafted elaborate battle sequences with miniatures culminating in the destruction of large sets and created a massive musical number for the Zoot suit riot. Spielberg shot over a million feet of film, most of it wasn’t used. He also had numerous problems with John Belushi. He would show up to the set tired from going to parties the night before and was often drunk. Toshiro Mifune was upset by the laid back acting of his fellow Asian actors (many of whom were untrained extras) and was very belligerent to them. He even slapped one actor saying, “This is how Japanese men are trained!” Even though the movie tanked at the box office, it has turned into a success on DVD sales.
Is it any good? Well, no. It’s not horrible but it’s not good either. There are some funny scenes and the actions scenes look good. The problem the action scenes are unnecessary. You can tell that Spielberg is trying hard, but that doesn’t make it funny. Spielberg adopts the approach to comedy where he throws ten ideas against the wall and hopes at least one sticks. Now that is not a bad approach to comedy, but when the movie runs two and a half hours, it’s not enough to keep the movie rolling. The movie is simply too long for what it was trying to achieve. It’s nice to see Belushi again and Mifune as the sub commander, but its not enough to recommend this.