Plot: Shakes (Bobcat Goldthwait) is a good natured but alcoholic clown, who stumbles his way into a murder mystery, one in which he’s been framed as the killer. When the local kiddie television show needs a new host, all the clowns think they’ll be chosen for the position, but Binky, who the other clowns hate, ends up with the job. Shakes has more problems than being overlooked however, as his girlfriend is on the verge of leaving him and his drinking is going out of control. Meanwhile, Binky and his two henchmen attempt to purchase some cocaine from some rodeo clowns, when Binky’s boss discovers his nasty habit. Out of desperation, Binky clubs his boss to death with a bowling pin, and tries to make it appear as though Shakes, who was fired by the dead man earlier, is responsible. Shakes needs to reconcile with his girlfriend, control his alcohol addiction, and clear his name, before his nose honking days are over…for good!
Entertainment Value: A dark comedy about the world of clowns, now that is a premise I can believe in. There’s still some of the usual clown style humor, but this is slanted more toward the bleaker, more personal side of the clown realm and Bob Goldthwait’s vision is indeed quite dark at times. The narrative is competent, but this is more character driven and that works well, as Shakes the Clown is populated with colorful, wild personas and by turn, that means the movie never lacks for interest elements or big personalities. But the quest of Shakes to find the next step of success blended with the murder plot is a fun narrative to follow, made all the better by all the weirdos and wackos on showcase. The sense of humor is crude, dark, and often surreal, with most the jokes landing and the dialogue has a lot of great lines. The clowns have so much anger and bitterness, combined with alcohol and drug abuse, which means some wild scenes and outlandish exchanges. The pace is also brisk and with a consistent flow of humor, that means Shakes the Clown never plods in the least and is able to hold interest from start to finish. If you appreciate dark humor or just have a clown fetish, this is one you will want to check out.
The lead role here belongs to Bob Goldthwait, who is an ideal choice for a dysfunctional maniac like Shakes. He is able to have the manic, unstable persona needed for the part, but also heart and charm, to keep him likable or at least more likable than some of his clown rivals. I think he is just fun to watch as a clown period, let alone a worn down, grizzled performer like Shakes. He embraces the bitterness and frayed nerves of the character, so he conveys the short temper and alcohol soaked texture you’d expect from a substance abusing clown. In addition to being the lead actor, Goldthwait also wrote and directed Shakes the Clown, so he is the prime creative force both in front of and behind the camera. I suppose that is likely why the role is such a natural one for him, as he was able to tailor it to his strengths. Tom Kenny also deserves some praise, as he is fun to watch as the ridiculous Binky, turning in an unhinged performance that ensures Bobcat has a proper rival to joust with. The cast here also includes Adam Sandler, Robin Williams, Julie Brown, Florence Henderson, Kathy Griffin, LaWanda Page, Blake Clark, and Tim Kazurinsky.
The Disc: Mill Creek’s Blu-ray release of Shakes the Clown looks good, with a clean and clear visual presentation with no real concerns. The detail level is sharp and a step above the DVD edition, though fine detail isn’t eye popping like some HD releases. The colors are bright and bold however, with accurate contrast and no digital woes, so overall, this is a good looking effort. On the extras front, we have an audio commentary track with Bobcat Goldthwait, Julie Brown, and Tom Kenny. This new session is filled with first hand stories from the shoot and you can tell the movie was a special one to these three, as the enthusiasm shines through.