Whoever had the bright idea of making a modern-day Marx Brothers movie should have kept this in mind: The Marx Brothers were funny.
Once you get past its title, "Brain Donors" is anything but funny. Impudent and manic, yes, in the best Marxian tradition.
But it is desperate in its scattered shots at any lame thing for a possible laugh, where the Marxes were always cool and -- for the most part -- surreally inspired when it came to stringing nonsense together.
The film's nominal plot could have been subtitled "A Night at the Ballet." Three yahoos on the make disrupt highbrow events, ridiculing the privileged and pretentious without mercy while helping a nice young couple get along. You'd be on the wackos' side, too, if they didn't make your skin crawl.
John Turturro ("Barton Fink," "Do the Right Thing," "Jungle Fever") is the Groucho-wannabe, shyster lawyer Roland T. Flakfizer, who is introduced literally chasing an ambulance.
Stand-up comic Bob Nelson's Jacques is a sweet, gizmo-slinging man-child, sort of a cross between Harpo and Pee-wee Herman. Probably due to the fact that he, too, has an accent, British comedian Mel Smith is the designated Chico, a cab-driving slob and penny-ante con man.
Nancy Marchand, late of the "Lou Grant" TV series, is a good sport in the Margaret Dumont role of a rich, Flakfizer-smitten dowager. And real dancer George De La Pena is convincing and hissable as the egotistical ballet star whose climactic performance is, of course, decimated by the three boors.
Some people are mistaking "Brain Donors" as a Zucker brothers film, but be aware that it was only executive produced by the "Airplane!"/"Naked Gun" guys -- and, if its low laugh level is any indication, probably executive produced via fax.
If anyone asks you to see it, tell 'em you gave at the office.
Starring John Turturro, Bob Nelson and Mel Smith.
Directed by Dennis Dugan.