As many people know, The Batman/Superman movie (or Superman/Batman movie depending on who you’re talking to) has been a major point of discussion in the nerd community since it’s annoucement at Comic Con International this past July. Hell, forget the nerd community, the whole damn movie-going public has been talking about and speculating on this film. There’s been much debate and excitement over it. This debate/excitement was heightened for many when Ben Affleck was announced as the new Bats. Since then, there has been much speculation on other major characters in the film, including Bryan Cranston’s name being bandied about when talking about a particular bald-headed baddie from the Superman Mythos. There’s been a few names thrown out for a new Joker as well. But this is all just fans taking educated guesses and your guess is as good as mine as to what will become reality with Zack Snyder’s second kick at the Super-Can. So, like some fans, I have been trying to distance myself from any thoughts on the subject. But then I saw the trailer for the Robocop remake in which a familiar face makes an appearance. The familiar face is none other than Michael Keaton. You know the one. He made us chuckle in Mr. Mom and Gung Ho. He was Beetlejuice. And to some reading this here article, he’s the Batman of our Childhood. So naturally, the thoughts of Batman returned and it made me harken back to the 90s and the movie where Batman fought with Superman. No, I’m not talking about the Batman/Superman World’s Finest animated flick. Besides, that was really a couple of episodes of the Superman cartoon strung together and Bats and Supes didn’t even throw down in that one. I’m instead talking about the movie from the 90s starring Michael Keaton where Batman fought with Superman.
Confused. Well maybe it will help if I tell you that it wasn’t actually Batman and Superman that fought but instead actors who played them in previous films. And they didn’t so much fight as they competed for the affections of Geena Davis. Does that jog your memory at all? Would it help if I mentioned it also featured Jon McClane’s wife and a Ghostbuster? I’m of course talking about the mostly forgotten Speechless, starring Michael Keaton, Geena Davis and Christopher Reeve. If you don’t remember the film, that’s okay. Not many people do. It suffered at the box office and went on to video store obscurity. But just because you don’t remember it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check it out now.
When you boil it down, the film is a basic romantic comedy akin to the old Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn flicks of yore. A man and a woman meet on common ground, fall for each other, find out that they’re professional rivals and spend the rest of the film figuring out what’s more important to them, their professional rivalry or their potential romance. In this case, Kevin Vallick (Keaton) and Julia Mann (Davis) are both political speech writers for candidates running in the senate race of 1994. Both suffer from insomnia and because of this, each finds themselves fighting with the other over the last few caplets of nytol at the all night pharmacy. One thing leads to another and the next thing you know, they’re having a romantic adventure that lasts until the next morning. The morning is when they find out that each is the speech writer for the rival candidate in the New Mexico Election. We see the two stage a battle of words through their respective candidate’s speeches and it breeds a sense of respect between the two that ultimately may bring them back together. That would be the case at least if it wasn’t for Bagdad Bob, Julia’s on-again/off-again fiance played by Christoper Reeve. Bob (or Baggy as he likes to be called) is a war correspondent for a major news channel who’s decided to cover the New Mexico Senate Race in an attempt to win back Julia. This competition brings out the cerebral fighter in Kevin who then decides that Julia is not a woman you give up on and must use his wit and charm to win her back. The rest ramps up to a finish where a few surprises are revealed about the electoral candidates but it all takes a back seat to the eventual “happily ever after” moment that’s expected from a 90s romance flick.
When you lay it out on paper, Speechless sounds like a trite and sappy “chick flick” that’s not really worth your time but what this plot description is unable to convey is the amount of heart this little film has. Keaton, who was making a string of dramas and Bat-flicks at the time, really gets to return to his roots in broad comedy. He’s charming yet sneaky giving him that lovable scoundrel feel that we love. Geena Davis goes against her usual type casting and plays a straight laced “true believer” who feels that the right person can make a difference. She also gets some fun broad comic moments that really make you root for her. What’s even more surprising is that Reeve delivers on some great character comedy. When we think of Reeve, we automatically go to Superman in our minds. But the man also had great success in conveying some passionate characters that didn’t wear tights. Films like Somewhere in Time and Street Smarts showed he had range. But he wasn’t really known for comedy. Here, he plays a himbo blinded by his own good looks and journalistic prowess. He’s incredibly self-obsorbed and makes a great “antagonist”. He’s also a bit of a dumb-ass. You have to remind yourself this is Christopher Reeve your watching, he plays a jerk so well. Sadly, this would be his last performance before the accident that would leave him paralysed. With supporting performances from Ernie Hudson as the Davis’ boss, Bonnie Bedilia as Keaton’s co-worker and ex-wife and Hary Shearer and Steven Wright as a pair of sitcom stars, this film hits you with a steady dose of enjoyable entertainment.
While the writing is a bit cliche, there’s still some light commentary about the lack of voter interest. There’s been a strong belief for years now that there isn’t much focus on the issues when politicians campaign and instead they spend their time mudslinging to make their opponent look bad. It’s true and while we think it’s bad now, it was just as, if not worse, in the mid-nineties. This was an attempt to speak to the lowest common denominator to generate more interest in voting. It had the opposite effect. In 1994, only 53% of the U.S. voted in the senatorial elections. This film was put out there to take a few jabs at the way politicians conduct themselves. It’s not biting political satire but it’s there.
When it comes down to it, Speechless is not cinematic genius. It’s just a fun movie for a Friday night when you’re kicking back and looking for something to watch. You’ll get a few laughs, your heartstrings may get tugged on a bit and you’ll go to bed happy. That’s all you really want from a film, right? A happy feeling garnered from a little escapism. And hey, it’s a long wait until 2015. If you really want to whet the appetite, watch speech writer Batman face off against Superman for the effections of Thelma. And Supes is still a reporter! It’s sure to be a good time. If you can get your hands on a copy, check out Speechless tonight!
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!
Past Rentals Under the Radar: