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Classic Movie Review: 'Clifford' Starring Martin Short

Trolls like to pretend that Clifford is a secret work of genius. I assure you, they are just messing with you.

By Sean PatrickPublished 14 days ago 4 min read
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Clifford (1994)

Directed by Paul Flaherty

Written by Jay Dee Rock, Steven Kampman

Starring Martin Short, Charles Grodin, Mary Steenburgen, Dabney Coleman

Release Date April 1st, 1994

Published April 1st, 2024

There has been a minor reassessment of the movie Clifford in recent years. Famously, actor Nicolas Cage spoke about being a fan of the film in relating a story about meeting Martin Short. The idea that Nicolas Cage fan-girled at meeting Martin Short and peppered him with praise for Clifford is a better and funnier story than anything in Clifford. I think there are people who adopted Clifford as their movie simply to be different from the rest of the world which roundly rejected this bizarre failure. Other than Nicolas Cage, who is seemingly incapable of irony, no one actually likes Clifford, they like being the person who says that they like Clifford.

Clifford stars Martin Short as the title character, Clifford, a deeply spoiled and entitled 10 year old boy. On a trip to Hawaii, Clifford manages to nearly crash a plane in hopes of landing in Los Angeles where he hopes to take a trip to Dinosaur World. Clifford's parents, desperate to get away from their child, drop Clifford with his Uncle Martin (Charles Grodin). The timing is fortuitous for Martin who needs to convince his girlfriend, Sarah (Mary Steenburgen) that he likes kids and has a special relationship with his nephew.

Unfortunately for Martin, he is not aware that his nephew is a 10 year old sociopath. Clifford's single minded desire to go to Dinosaur World leads him to destroy every aspect of his Uncle's life including breaking up Martin and Sarah, getting Martin fired from his job, and getting Martin arrested for planning to bomb City Hall. All of this is revenge for Martin failing to take Clifford to see Dinosaur World. All the while, Clifford plays the innocent child when Sarah or anyone else is around while turning malevolent when it's just he and his Uncle Martin.

Clifford doesn't have a plot. The film is a series of seemingly improvised gags where Short and Grodin happen to play the same characters in a different setting. The set up has Grodin trying to be a proper adult and professional and Clifford undermining him in various ways that risk his freedom, his job, and his life. Eventually, Grodin's rage grows out of control to the point where tries to murder his 10 year old nephew. And then the movie just ends with an unearned happy ending in which everything is resolved during a needless future-set framing device where Clifford, now a Priest, uses his experience as a sociopathic pre-teen to convince an orphan, played by Ben Savage, not to become a little sociopath himself.

I am convinced, now having seen Clifford for the first time, that the reassessment of the film's quality 30 years later is some sort of elaborate trolling. I can't imagine anyone, other than Nicolas Cage, of course, watching and actually enjoying Clifford. Admiring the guts of the movie? Sure, I can see that it took guts to make a movie this incomprehensible. It took chutzpah to try and improvise an entire comedy in which a 44 year old Martin Short played a 10 year old boy. And, certainly, giving creative comic minds like Charles Grodin and Martin Short the chance to riff a movie is brave. I can admire that aspect of the movie. I can also state that it's a massive failure at being funny or even coherent.

Clifford is the subject of the newest episode of the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast spinoff, I Hate Critics 1994. Each week, myself and my co-hosts, Gen-Z'er M.J and Gen-X'er Amy, look back on movies released years ago that same weekend. The goal is to see how movies and culture have changed in the past 30 years and why some movies have stood the test of time and others have drifted off into obscurity. You can hear I Hate Critics 1994 on the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast feed, wherever you listen to podcasts.

Find my archive of more than 20 years and more than 2000 movie reviews at SeanattheMovies.blogspot.com. Find my modern review archive on my Vocal Profile, linked here. Follow me on Twitter at PodcastSean. Follow the archive blog on Twitter at SeanattheMovies. Listen to me talk about movies on the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast. If you have enjoyed what you have read, consider subscribing to my writing on Vocal. If you'd like to support my writing, you can do so by making a monthly pledge or by leaving a one time tip. Thanks!

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About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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