Starring: Robin Williams and Forest Whitaker
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 enhanced for 16 x 9
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Languages: English, French
Extras: Production Diary incl.: How the Movie came to be, Actor Improv, Music of the Movie, Origin of the Good Morning Vietnam sign-on, Shooting in Thailand, Overview of the film one year later; Raw Monologues; Original Theatrical and Original Teaser Trailers
Length: 2 hours, 1 minute
Is the Vietnam War, with all of its ugliness and brutality, a possible source for humor?
Insert the zany antics and comic brilliance of Robin Williams into the picture and indeed, such a possibility exists. In 1987, Williams starred in the comedy Good Morning Vietnam, loosely based on the real-life experiences of actual Air Force and Vietnam era disc jockey Adrian Cronauer. The film is now re-released on DVD by Touchstone Pictures and includes candid interviews with cast and crew members from the film.
The hilarious two hour feature serves as a platform for Williams’ improvisational genius, an aspect of the actor/comedian’s talent that Director Barry Levinson makes ample use of as the film progresses. While the film devotes only 14 minutes of actual screen time to the free-wheeling comedy of Williams behind the microphone, his fast paced delivery creates the impression of even more. Impressions of Richard Nixon, Elmer Fudd, and Gomer Pyle all within a minute are notable, knee-slapping highlights.
Levinson wastes no time showcasing Williams’ seemingly unlimited ability to entertain his audience. After reporting for duty at the Saigon Army base, Cronauer (Williams) launches his untamed radio program, chock full of rock music, unpredictable impersonations, and…well, good natured fun. More predictably, a few noticeably conservative and uptight members of the base: Sgt. Major Phillip Dickerson (J.T Walsh) and Lt. Steven Hauk (Bruno Kirby), object to Cronauer’s spontaneous, unconventional approach to military radio programming. The rest of the film pits Cronauer and his new devotees at the station and in the field against those annoying top brass.
With the intriguing challenge of finding humor in such dark subject matter, Good Morning Vietnam has exceptional promise. In fact, this is a topic of discussion by the screenwriter Mitch Markowitz and Levinson in the DVD extras. By selecting the one man comedy factory Robin Williams to portray Cronauer, the film reaches that potential. Other cast members, including Whitaker as Private Garlick, as well as Walsh and Kirby, compliment the presence of the endlessly captivating Williams on screen.
The film itself, however, is less dynamic. Cronauer is given a love interest, the boys at the station become instantly enamored with his show, and one extremely repressed Army sergeant major (Walsh) conspires to do him in. No surprises there. Williams’ brilliant quick wit and ability to amuse us overshadows these unoriginal plot lines, but why not provide more? Perhaps a sub-story about the plight of an airman who gains comfort in Williams’ comic show? (Though Levinson does include yet one more moment with Williams and GIs where he improvises with them). Or how about offering more from the love interest than a beautiful but unobtainable Vietnamese woman who walks gracefully around the base, speaking softly along the way?
Touchstone’s re-release of Good Morning Vietnam exhibits the extraordinary talents of Robin Williams, who later in his career distanced himself from such super-charged hyper performances with serious roles in films like Good Will Hunting and Awakenings. This high-octane comedy and the extra commentary about the film provide for an intriguing night of cinema, shortcomings of the script notwithstanding. Picture quality, amidst the backdrop of Thailand, and good sound both enhance the viewing of this DVD.
– Jim Fasulo