Corpse-Farce Musical ‘Lucky Stiff’ Seems Un-Stuck in Time


Lucky Stiff debuted Off-Broadway in 1988. Twenty-seven years later, the musical’s cinematic adaptation can’t escape its age.

Based on a book (The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo) set in the 1920s and published in 1983, the film feels somehow both dated and without temporal reference. Hapless shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon (Dominic Marsh) is launched on his journey via telegram, which leads him to taking his uncle’s corpse on a final, fabulous vacation to Monte Carlo in order to inherit $6 million.

If he doesn’t follow his uncle’s posthumous instructions exactly, the money will go to the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn. Though the play preceded Weekend at Bernie’s by a year, how can a film made since not feel like a retread?

All the characters are caricatures, but Nikki M. James quietly steals the show by giving hers, Annabel Glick, a couple of dimensions. A bookish, solitary woman sent by the dog home to catch Mr. Witherspoon not fulfilling his obligations, thus securing the money for the animals, she is forced out of her shell less by the razzle-dazzle of Monte Carlo than by Mr. Witherspoon’s doofy charm (and his hatred of dogs, because opposites attract?). She has a lovely, wistful solo in “Times Like This,” longing to be home with her loyal dog instead of at some tawdry casino with a stranger, his uncle’s body, and a bunch of dopes running around talking, singing, and pointing guns at each other.

Lucky Stiff shoots for “zany” and lands at “attention deficit disorder,” but the songs aren’t bad.

Lucky Stiff
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Opens July 24, AMC Empire 25
Available on demand