Amy Heckerling’s screwball gangster comedy Johnny Dangerously aims to give the viewer a fargin’ good time, and–thanks to swift pacing, a tongue-in-cheek script, a willingness to try every kind of gag it can think of, and, most of all, a typically electric performance from a young Michael Keaton–it succeeds. I saw it for the first time about a month ago, and it already feels like it’s retroactively inserted itself into my childhood. It has the occasional “well, it was the ’80s” line that’s wince-worthy, but at its heart, it’s good, goofy fun. It has the playfulness of something like Down with Love, but with a looser, grungier, more murder-filled approach.
Keaton plays the title character, who is born Johnny Kelly but, with the urgent need to provide for his mother and younger brother, soon remakes himself into the successful and always sharp-dressed gangster Johnny Dangerously. There’s a plot here–one that involves Johnny’s younger brother’s ironic career in the District Attorney’s office and some jostling for power with Johnny’s rival-turned-subordinate-turned-challenger Danny Vermin (Joe Piscopo)–but it’s really just a framework for non-stop gags. And the gags are good ones, including the best use ever of shelf paper and of a label gun. Add in a ridiculously catchy, bouncy theme by Weird Al Yankovic, and you have some wonderfully enjoyable (and critically underappreciated) pleasure viewing.
Johnny Dangerously is streaming on HBO Max.