30 Years of ‘So I Married an Axe Murderer’, a Romantic Comedy that’s All Over the Place
In between the two Wayne’s World movies, Mike Myers starred in a comedy that represented a bizarre curio: A romantic comedy in which Myers played a not-especially talented San Francisco beat poet who falls in love with a woman (Nancy Travis) who may or may not be a serial killer.
That movie was So I Married an Axe Murderer, and it was released in July of 1993, 30 years ago last week. Directed by Thomas Schlamme, always much better known for television (including The West Wing and other Aaron Sorkin shows), So I Married an Axe Murderer was something of a flop upon release, but gained a bit of a cult following throughout the 1990s. And both things make sense ― it’s a very funny movie, and also a very strange one, in which one gets the sense Myers was tossing together a ton of ideas that have little to do with one another.
Myers starred in the film when he was about 30, near the end of his time on Saturday Night Live, although he looked much younger. He is not the credited screenwriter, but reportedly “extensively re-wrote” the script by Robbie Fox. And that’s not so surprising, as the screenplay is full of Myers’ career-spanning hobby horses, including endless Scottish references, and Myers playing multiple characters (including his own father).
The father character gets a rant about “The Pentaverate,” an apparent longtime Myers obsession that he would turn into a not-very-good Netflix limited series more than 25 years later. He also says “evil” much the same way he would as “Dr. Evil,” starting four years later.
Myers plays Charlie, a man somehow able to afford a decent apartment and car in San Francisco, even though he’s a professional beat poet (and not such a great one at that). We see him doing terrible beat poetry with the real pictures of the women projected behind him, which is the sort of thing that would make Charlie look like a creepy incel if he did it today. And one scene, in which we see Charlie sitting on the roof of his apartment building against a not-very-convincing green screen backdrop of San Francisco, can’t help but prefigure Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.
Like most other male romantic comedy protagonists in the 1990s, he fears commitment, only to have a seemingly perfect woman fall into his lap. Eventually, he meets Harriet (Nancy Travis), who works as a butcher at a shop that specializes in exotic meats; big city butchery, of course, is a job so often performed by young, beautiful women.
They start to date, but Charlie begins to suspect that his new love is in fact a serial murderer, which exacerbates his commitment-phobia. As pointed out on the most recent season of Karina Longworth’s great You Must Remember This podcast, So I Married an Axe Murderer has a surprisingly similar plot to that of Basic Instinct, from the previous year and also set in San Francisco: We know that the main female character may or may not be a murderer, and the plot repeatedly goes back and forth on which one it was. In fact, Sharon Stone was at one point slated to play Harriet.
Yes, the plot is silly, and it spends a great deal of time jumping back and forth between the romance, the murder mystery, the Scottish jokes, and other unrelated things that Myers thinks are funny. One of the better gags involves Anthony LaPaglia as Myers’ best friend, a cop who’s disappointed that the job doesn’t entail the sort of things that happen on cop shows, like chases or his boss (Alan Arkin) yelling at him.
Elements that Work
Uneven as the film is, there are elements that really work. Everything with Myers as the Scottish dad is gold. It used San Francisco especially well. And it popularized one of the best pop songs of the ’90s, “There She Goes” by the La’s, offered in various versions over the course of the film. And the film is full of fantastic cameos, from the likes of Phil Hartman, Charles Grodin, and Michael Richards, as the world’s most insensitive obituary writer:
So I Married an Axe Murderer is streaming on Max.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.