Controversial Comedies: Like 'em or Loathe 'em

What makes a 'bad' comedy? Lack of laughs? ...Actually, yeah! Not enough laughs should be right at the top of the list. But if every movie must be measured by one specific metric, we're all in big trouble; in fact, any list of criteria is scheduled to fuck up a good time - especially when it's applied to anything artistic.

Speaking of 'artistic,' there are a handful of lowbrow clunkers from the late 80s/early 90s that have managed to harness a buncha cult momentum over the years - probably due largely to their notoriety with critics mixed with some misguided nostalgia (a formula we don't subscribe to). There are some that are worthy of some genuine, unironic love. And the others - well, if you get a kick outta reliving a waste of 90 mins. because it gets you in touch with your youth, have at it.

All of these flicks are not without their problems, though they're never the problems anyone seems to notice/care about. A lot of them also have some merit - which no one ever seems to notice or care about.
Let's get dirty.

- Paul

Weekend At Bernie's (1989)

The title itself is synonymous with "dumb movies" - which is fair enough, I'll let that slide. But the dumbness I found wasn't in its offbeat premise, or Andrew McCarthy's overacting, or the incessant reggae music - in fact, when I think of the movie, these are the things I find endearing. To be even more specific, anything else in the movie that detracts from that stuff is when I start to roll my eyes -- and the biggest and most painful detraction is some saggy romantic subplot between Jonathan Silverman and Catherine Mary Stewart (playing the female lead in a movie that doesn't have one). Every once in a while I decide to take another look at the movie, and I'm always blindsided by this agonizing attempt at some seriously unnecessary character development. There's a series of scenes between the two of them early on that play out like a promise that we won't have to revisit this nonsense for the duration of the film. But once the plot kicks in and the gags start flying, there's even more of these painful dialogue scenes between the two of them - right when we don't want them, causing any viewer to lament, "Why can't we just get back to the dead guy?!"
What can I say? It coulda been great. B-

Men At Work (1990)

Another example of some forced rom com pieces where they don't fit (all involving Charlie Sheen at his sleaziest, which actually gives them a bit of edge). Though they do attempt to convince us that it's integral to the plot, so we won't deduct too many points. And whatever you may think of Charlie as a human, he's consistently been a competent actor - particularly a comedic one.
At its heart, the setup (the morbid inconvenience of what to do with a dead body and all that that entails) is one I'm usually fond of - with everything from Pulp Fiction to Weekend At Bernie's. But the driving force behind this feature-length hijink is surprisingly the performances. The chemistry between Sheen & Estevez is more satisfying than one woulda thought. John Getz, who always shines most when he's forced to be funny, shines pretty brightly in this one. Even Dean Cameron, who I usually steer clear of, is more than tolerable in the background noise he provides.
But if you're a Keith David fan & you haven't seen Men At Work, you haven't seen his best role (and yes, I'm fully aware of the weight of what I've just written).
So, what's wrong with this little opus of chuckles? If nothing else (and there really isn't anything else), the lazy climax more clearly defines "lazy" than it does "climax." Spoiler: John Getz' bloodthirsty mob villain may be played for laughs, but he's eventually thwarted by our sprawling cast of heroes with an arsenal of garbage and trash cans (because Charlie & Emilio play garbage men, you see) and then pushed down a hill into some more garbage, leaving him stinky and humiliated, and leaving us bored and unfulfilled.
Bummer, they fumbled it so close to the end zone. B+

Nothing But Trouble (1991)

Not every outlandish bit of business here went down easy -- consider this experiment that flat-out shattered the test tubes.
Ensemble A-list casts are hit or miss - this was a big embarrassing "miss" for these comedy veterans and rising stars alike.
It was already branded "historically awful" by the time it hit video - which is when I saw it. Now, a bad movie can be tough sometimes, but when comedy fails, it's so much more painful, because a joke that falls flat is just so uncomfortable to witness - and no one wants to feel that.
So there, now that I've adequately asserted that I really don't care for this turkey, I'm now free of the encumbrances of 'mixed signals' while I talk about what I do like about it.
As a horror movie, it's not a far cry from stuff like Motel Hell or even Texas Chainsaw Massacre (at least in terms of the devices it employs), and going into it as an 8 year old, it actually is kind of effective on that plane. From top to bottom, it's really an achievement in gothic set design and seamless makeup effects, as well as a few plot points that would've probably been effective in a different movie with a different cast and a different script. There's a sequence where a group of teens (?) get fed into some kinda giant meat grinder and their bones shoot out of a tube at the other end -- it's played for laughs, but as we've already established, there aren't any, so it's just a gruesome example of the carnage and gross-out gimmickry this 'comedy' has to offer. D+

Howard The Duck (1986)

When I would watch it as a kid, I didn't really see any problems with it. When I watch it as a grownup, it feels a little juvenile... But still, I don't really have any problems with it.
I know it cost George & the gang a lot to make and it tanked on tickets, but the actual flaws in the quality I find to be pretty superficial.
And I will continue my crusade in applauding films that utilize (and even celebrate) the time period in which they were made, and Howard is refreshingly shameless about that: punk rockers roam the streets like post-apocalyptic bullies, government men in suits show up to create conflict, and lasers had a function that fell in line with the rules of science fiction.
Howard himself is likable enough, Jeffrey Jones is at his most evil, and Tim Robbins is comfortingly consistent within a career of overacting. And, of course, Lea Thompson never gives any reason to complain.
I am aware of the supposed "disgust" over the semi-sexual tension between Beverly and Howard - which is usually the glaring thread that people point to and say, "There! That's why this movie sucks!" To which I say: why, in the comic book movie about an inter-dimensional talking duck who saves the world and plays the guitar, are you combing for good taste and/or realism? Besides, I don't care what planet you're from, you don't turn down Lea Thompson in her underwear - I knew that when I was 4.
We saw a revival of it on the big screen a few years back, and I swear I've rarely seen an audience so quietly engrossed in a movie from beginning to end. What I gather from this is: you may not like Howard The Duck, but you'd be mistaken. B

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another interesting category of controversial comedies are the auteurist bombs that are actually pretty good; films like Ishtar, 1941, or They All Laughed.

Personally I love all three.

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