The Real Howard Spitz Review
Most television stars get but one chance to make the jump to film - just ask most of the cast of Friends. Going along with that theory, after the awful Down Periscope, Kelsey Grammer really ought to have taken notice of the empty theatres to which it played and headed back to the set of Frasier after returning his naval officer's uniform. How unlikely is it, therefore, that The Real Howard Spitz, Grammer's follow-up to Down Periscope should turn out better than expected...unlikely indeed.
Howard Spitz (Grammer) is an author of pulp detective novels whose latest books are not selling so well any more and is now struggling to get his latest work published. His agent, Lou (Rutten), says that he will try and sell the book but, in an admission that he won't get far, says that it's unlikely to happen. In a chance encounter, Spitz ends up at a signing in a bookstore of the latest in a series of Terrible Tilly children's books enquiring of the author how much she makes. In finding out just how much money there is in children's books, Spitz heads to the local library to borrow a few and to see how hard it would be to write a few of his own. It is when he is at the library that he meets Samantha (Tessier), a young girl living with her mother, Laura (Donohoe), but whose father left them before she was born. When she finds out that Spitz writes detective novels, she asks him to help her but Spitz is a curmudgeon - an incurable one, he believes - and refuses to help her until guilt gets the better of him.
After coming up with the Crafty Cow series of detective books for children - editorially assisted by Samantha - Spitz finds that his publishers demand that he appear at book signings and on television interviews but Spitz confesses to Lou that he detests children. To get around this, Spitz hires an actor to play him during public appearances and after holding auditions, an actor (McKenna) is selected. Spitz's problems, inasmuch as there were more than a few before, suddenly multiply as Samantha begins to scratch off Spitz's surface to reveal that he may care more that he is prepared to admit.
Like the Jack Nicholson character in As Good As It Gets, Kelsey Grammer's Howard Spitz is a disagreeable and bitter middle-aged-to-old soul who enjoys as little interaction with the rest of humanity as possible, with his most venomous comments reserved for children and parents. Spitz only really ventures out of his apartment for daily groceries, booze and fags as well as occasional meetings with his agent whom he berates for his inability to sell Spitz's increasingly awful books and director Vadim Jean gets as much out of Spitz as possible in these early scenes, notably a scene when a young boy wanders over to Spitz sitting on a park bench as he listens to a horse race on which he had bet a sizeable sum of money.
It should really go without saying that as soon as Spitz meets Samantha and Laura, his stony exterior begins to shatter and fall away, not only by trying to help the little girl find her father but to also explore the possibility of falling in love with her mother. In this, the film is not altogether successful, with Samantha being a little too precocious to really like and the relationship between Spitz and Laura is not quite convincing not honest enough to hold true. The problem is that there is never any doubt that Spitz and Laura will end up together and, following their second meeting - the first ends with Laura shooting at Spitz thinking he is a burglar - Spitz's personality does such a quick one-eighty that you'll wonder if a few scenes have been cut. There are, however, still a few moments in which Spitz stays true to his earlier, funnier and more caustic personality with one in particular seeing Spitz overcoming the lack of hamburger on a menu in a French restaurant by ordering Steak Tartare, mixing up the minced beef, egg and herbs and asking the waiter to take it back to the kitchen for the chef to cook. Okay, so it's not really that funny but compared with what surrounds it, it's a wonderfully smart gag.
Regarding the cast, Grammer isn't at all bad but Donohoe, normally a good actress with a history of sharp roles behind her, is rather subdued here. Given the part she's playing, maybe that isn't much of a surprise but it would be preferable if she had brought a little more to Laura than simply showing up and saying her lines as done here. Another problem is that despite starring in LA Law, Donohoe still hasn't nailed her American accent and sounds out of place here. Otherwise, Patrick McKenna and Joseph Rutten do better in their roles as the fake Howard Spitz and Spitz's agent, Lou, respectively.
The film has been badly transferred by Metrodome in not preserving its original aspect ratio, presenting the film at 1.33:1 rather than 1.85:1 as it was shown in its limited theatre release. Even in looking past this major error, the picture is soft but the reproduction of colour is good.
The Real Howard Spitz has been transferred with a 2.0 stereo soundtrack, which is fine but unspectacular. The soundtrack is clean, free of noise and the separation between the left and right channels is good.
Metrodome have released The Real Howard Spitz with but one rather obvious extra:
Trailer (1m51s, 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Soundtracked by the bizarre rap song that appears over the end credits of the film, this trailer highlights many of the film's more amusing moments whilst avoiding the funnier and more bitter comments made by Spitz throughout the film, making Grammar's character appear more endearing to children than he actually is.
In slightly praising the film, The Real Howard Spitz unexpectedly works by being only as good as it needs to be, which is competent without being surprising in the slightest. Unlike As Good As It Gets, which always seemed like a film that would have gone straight to video but for the presence of Jack Nicholson, The Real Howard Spitz, despite receiving a cinema release in the UK, feels like it ought to be no more than a Sunday afternoon movie on television. In saying this, it's not possible to really recommend purchasing the film on DVD as The Real Howard Spitz is simply not that good but it's a decent enough film with which to pass ninety minutes when it is next shown on television.