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The TBTS Movie Character Hall of Fame: Otto West

November 29, 2011
Kevin Kline as Otto West, A Fish Called Wanda

Kevin Kline as Otto West in "A Fish Called Wanda"

Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re very honored you could join us today; for today, we induct another member into a very prestigious Hall of Fame: the TBTS Movie Character Hall of Fame. There are many movies, with many characters. Sometimes a movie has more than one character (it’s true!), and sometimes a movie may not have any characters. The latter are generally unsuccessful, while the former continue to thrill us in our “movie chairs.”

Modern moviegoers have been treated to quite a few timeless comedies. Clue. Raising Arizona. Airplane. Not only are they imminently quotable, but they keep us laughing decades after their release. I believe 1988’s A Fish Called Wanda is such a film. Not only is the screenplay brilliant and hilarious, but its characters are brought to life by memorable performances. Stars John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Michael Palin all shine, but one star shines just a bit brighter: Kevin Kline. His role as the narcissistic, thick-headed thug Otto West virtually steals the show in this classic heist comedy.

Otto is obnoxiously American, forced to interact with what he sees as snotty, pompous British folks. He has an inferiority complex about Europeans which causes him to overcompensate in every possible way. He babbles Italian gibberish in bed. He fancies himself an intellectual because he reads Nietzsche (whom he grossly misquotes) and claims to admire Buddhism (which he grossly misunderstands.) Otto loves the smell of his own armpits, and he hates being called stupid.

Don’t, ah . . . ever, ever . . . EVER . . . call me stupid. Okay?

Really, the only times Otto is even remotely shrewd are when he is committing violence. He claims to have been trained by the CIA and is an expert marksman, but he has a comically short attention span (“What was the … middle part? About the police?”). Otto can be counted on to get the job done, if the job involves killing or hurting someone. He gets a huge kick out of making fun of others’ ineptitude without realizing his own. He is alternately quick-thinking and clumsy when it comes to deception.

Look. You obviously don’t know anything about intelligence work, lady. It’s an X-K… red… twenty-seven technique.

The note-perfect portrayal of Otto’s petulance and complete lack of self-awareness earned Kline the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1989. We here at TBTS can think of no one more deserving. And so we salute you, Otto West, and join in your clarion call: “WAKE UP, LIMEY FISH!”

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