Doctor Detroit Blu-ray Review

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Mildly Amusing Dan Aykroyd Comedy From the 1980s

Doctor Detroit is the most pivotal movie in Dan Aykroyd’s life. It even surpasses classics like Ghostbusters in importance for the comedic actor’s own life. Why you ask? The 1983 box office failure barely made a dent in his burgeoning movie career at the time but introduced him to his future wife, Donna Dixon. They met on the set of Doctor Detroit and have since been married for over thirty years.

Having established himself as a major comedy figure on television with wacky characters from SNL, someone at Universal figured this project would be comedy gold from the actor. Playing at times as an extended and poorly thought-out SNL skit, Doctor Detroit is one of the more forgettable entries in the ’80s comedy icon’s career.

Dan Aykroyd always worked best playing off another gifted comedian like Chevy Chase, but there’s no one in the cast outside of Hesseman’s abbreviated role that can match his unique timing and delivery. Doctor Detroit was competing at the same time with Trading Places and the differences are striking. Matched with a strong personality in Eddie Murphy, Trading Places is considered one of Aykroyd’s best movies.

Cliff (Dan Aykroyd) is your typical nerdy college professor that still lives at home with his parents and enjoys power walking. Sleazy pimp Smooth Walker (Howard Hesseman, WKRP In Cincinnati) finds himself in hot water with Chicago crime boss ‘Mom’ (Kate Murtagh) when he loses her money. Looking to shift the blame, Smooth claims that there’s a new player in town that Mom needs to be scared about. He calls this person Doctor Detroit, a ruthless villain who’s badder than bad. No such person exists. Long story short, Mom ends up thinking that Cliff is this Doctor Detroit and has her money.

What may work on a four-minute SNL skit turns into a series of pratfalls and physical comedy that simply doesn’t work

Cliff is quickly charmed by Smooth’s stable of beautiful ladies. What Cliff doesn’t know is that Smooth’s ladies are working girls and he’s their pimp. Donna Dixon and Fran Drescher play the leaders of Smooth’s women. A crazy side plot about Cliff saving his father’s college from financial ruin plays into the shenanigans.

Doctor Detroit is going well when an incredibly stupid set piece constructed around Cliff impersonating the wild Doctor brings the movie’s momentum to a screeching halt. Dressing himself up in a completely ridiculous outfit with a metal hand, it’s Aykroyd attempting to bring another character to life. What may work on a four-minute SNL skit turns into a series of pratfalls and physical comedy that simply doesn’t work. The last act has a curious musical number by James Brown that seems thrown together with little thought.

For some Doctor Detroit has become a cult classic, possibly aided by heavy repeat play in the early days of cable. It’s really no one’s idea of a great comedy but Aykroyd certainly provides some funny moments. Doctor Detroit is not one of his better movies. This is a flick from the Eighties through and through. It won’t provide much entertainment for new fans looking for undiscovered gems, but older fans that grew up on Doctor Detroit should recall a few fond memories.

Video

Shout Factory has licensed Doctor Detroit from Universal, possibly borrowing their existing HD transfer for the purposes of this Blu-ray release. It’s amazing we are getting Doctor Detroit at all on Blu-ray considering it was a flop at the box office. The 1983 movie is shown in its proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The AVC encode clocks in at excellent parameters on a BD-50, ensuring the 90-minute main feature is free of obvious compression artifacts.

Going by the relatively even grain structure and clean print condition, the film transfer has likely been filtered for dirt and debris removal. A hint of edge enhancement is visible in several scenes. It’s unknown if this transfer has been struck from the camera negative. The general level of softer detail and average definition indicates this transfer may well have been taken from IP elements. Doctor Detroit wasn’t the sharpest film to begin with but it’s possible this is an older telecine transfer. There isn’t much pop to its cinematography.

The print has minor speckling but very serviceable clarity. There is a steady contrast with adequate black levels. Shadow delineation could be improved but the movie rarely gets dark enough for this to be much of a problem. This is easily the best Doctor Detroit has looked in the HD era.

Audio

The original monaural soundtrack is presented in 2.0 DTS-HD MA. With its main theme sung by Devo, a musical appearance by James Brown and a score by noted Hollywood composer Lalo Schifrin, Doctor Detroit has a meaty sound with smooth dialogue.

The audio fidelity is clean with fine dynamic range. The pop music selections offer decent bass extension. This was a Hollywood studio production made on a Universal soundstage and Doctor Detroit sounds like it.

Optional English subtitles play in a white font.

Extras

Doctor Detroit is spine #45 in the Shout Select line from Shout Factory. While this Blu-ray release doesn’t get a slipcover, it does have reversible cover art. The extra features include a newly-recorded audio commentary and interview with director Michael Pressman. While I understand the lack of participation from Dan Aykroyd, it is surprising that Shout Factory didn’t dig up someone like actor Howard Hesseman for a new interview.

Audio Commentary With Director Michael Pressman and Pop Culture Historian Russell Dyball – Dyball is mostly here to keep Pressman talking. The director recalls a couple of amusing anecdotes from filming and delves into how James Brown ended up in the movie. This isn’t an electrifying commentary with penetrating insight, but provides a reasonable enough behind-the-scenes view of the production.

Interview With Director Michael Pressman (24:35 in HD) – This new interview is more focused than the director’s freewheeling audio commentary.

“Radio Free Detroit” – Inside the Doctor Detroit Audio Press Kit (24:29) –  These audio recordings feature rare and vintage radio interviews, designed to promote the movie on radio back when it was first released. The focus here is primarily star Dan Aykroyd, as he discusses his career and even John Belushi’s death. The interviews are surprisingly personal and revealing for studio-mandated promotional fare. Also interesting are a number of big names like Steven Spielberg showering Aykroyd with praise for his comedic talents.

Photo Gallery (08:18 in HD)

Theatrical Trailers (03:49 in SD) – Archival trailers in very grainy footage, likely sourced from VHS tapes.

TV Spots (01:01 in SD)

Radio Spots (04:14)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Doctor Detroit
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
2

Movie

Doctor Detroit has some amusing moments but this uneven Dan Aykroyd comedy from the early 1980s is best intended for fans that grew up with the movie.

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The unaltered images below are taken directly from the movie’s Blu-ray. For an additional seven Doctor Detroit uncompressed screenshots, early access to all screens (plus the 12,000+ already in our library), exclusive UHD reviews, and more, support us on Patreon.