Six Comedy Cult Classics from MGM
Hard Promises (November 13/05)
Hard Promises is a slight, instantly forgettable romantic comedy that doesn't possess any real depth but is generally kept afloat by the unexpectedly effective performances. William Petersen stars as Joey Coalter, an energetic free-spirit who learns that his wife Christine (played by Sissy Spacek) has actually divorced him and is on the verge of getting remarried. In terms of plot, that's about the extent of it; the majority of Hard Promises follows Joey as he attempts to convince Christine to get back together with him. Though the movie only runs about an hour and a half, there's no denying that the aimless vibe becomes oppressive almost immediately. And as charismatic as Petersen is here, he's trapped within the confines of an overbearing character that's far from likeable and almost impossible to root for. It doesn't help that Christine's fiancee (Brian Kerwin) is a thoroughly nice guy (a bit of a wimp, maybe, but a nice guy nonetheless), ensuring that Joey comes off as nothing more than a bully. Despite a conclusion that's not quite as predictable as one might expect, the overly laid-back pace and repetitious vibe effectively prevent Hard Promises from becoming anything more than a mildly distracting time-killer.
The Heavenly Kid (November 14/05)
If nothing else, The Heavenly Kid proves that it's not enough to build an entire movie around a single gimmick - no matter how sound or intriguing it may be. Starring Lewis Smith and Jason Gedrick, the film revolves around a '50s rebel (Smith) who - after perishing in a game of chicken - is told he can't go to Heaven until he helps an '80s nerd (Gedrick) build up his self-esteem. With its thoroughly unimpressive visuals and heavy emphasis on '80s songs (bad '80s songs at that), The Heavenly Kid is unlikely to appeal to anyone other than viewers who have fond memories of its original release (said viewers will surely be shocked at how poorly the film has aged, though). Stripped of Smith and Gedrick's energetic performances, the movie comes off as repetitious and surprisingly dull - something that can be attributed to Cary Medoway and Martin Copeland's aimless screenplay. The film doesn't even work as a fish-out-of-water comedy, as the jokes are painfully broad and obvious (upon trying marijuana for the first time, the '50s-rebel-turned-apparition starts literally floating). Oh, brother.
Love at Stake
Much like Airplane! and The Naked Gun, Love at Stake takes a kitchen-sink-and-all approach to its subject matter - in this case, the Salem Witch Trials - but comes up short in terms of producing any real laughs. Screenwriters Lanier Laney and Terry Sweeney resort to increasingly desperate tactics to wring laughs from the material, and though there is a chance certain viewers will find some of this stuff funny, there's no denying that most of Love at Stake just feels amateurish. Set in 17th century Salem, the film follows the Mayor (Dave Thomas) and top Judge (Stuart Pankin) as they attempt to bilk select residents out of their land by accusing them of practicing witchcraft. Unbeknownst to them, however, an actual witch (played by Barbara Carrera) has arrived on the scene and is manipulating events to serve her own evil purposes. Unlike, say, Leslie Nielson's work in the Naked Gun films, there isn't an ounce of subtlety to any of the performances here; the majority of the actors spend much of their time figuratively winking at the viewer, as if to say, "look at how ruthlessly absurd we're being!" And while there are one or two chuckle-worthy moments (Police Academy's David Graf plays a dim-witted farmer who is tricked into having an affair with a turkey), Love at Stake is - on the whole - a hopelessly frivolous waste of time.
O.C. and Stiggs
During the entirety of its far-too-long running time, O.C. and Stiggs comes off as nothing less than a colossal misfire of epic proportions. Director Robert Altman's signature style doesn't even remotely suit the material, though - to be fair - there's not a filmmaker alive that'd be able to make sense of Donald Cantrell and Ted Mann's disjointed and thoroughly incoherent screenplay. The movie revolves around the wacky misadventures of two high school students - the titular O.C. (Daniel Jenkins) and Stiggs (Neill Barry) - who spend their days pulling pranks and having fun, mostly at the expense of local racist/bigot Randall Schwab (Paul Dooley). Based on a series of articles that originally appeared in National Lampoon magazine, O.C. and Stiggs strikes a nonsensical vibe right from the get-go - a problem that's exacerbated by the complete and total lack of character development (something that's particularly true of O.C. and Stiggs themselves, who are relentlessly wacky without explanation). Altman's use of overlapping dialogue and slow-zooms has never been more irritating, and despite the presence of some familiar faces in supporting roles (including Dennis Hopper, in what amounts to a reprisal of his Apocalypse Now character), the film remains a massive failure on every single level and makes one long for the coherence of a straight-to-video Eric Roberts thriller.
no stars out of
Pray TV is an exceedingly silly comedy in the vein of Tunnelvision and The Boob Tube revolving around a the hijinks at KRUD, a low-rent television station that's on the verge of bankrupcy. Enter Marvin Fleece (Dabney Coleman), a charismatic but sleazy shyster who transforms KRUD into KGOD - a religious network that becomes an instant hit thanks to Fleece's irreverent programming choices (ie a sports show that covers "Jew Jitsu"). Screenwriters Dick Chudnow, Nick Castle, and Rick Friedberg imbue Pray TV with a surfeit of parodies and satirical sketches, though there's very little here that's actually funny. The movie's refusal to take any real chances with the material results in a safe, thoroughly bland feel that's more reminiscent of contemporary SNL rather than old-school SNL. Pray TV's similarities to UHF - particularly in the auditioning-new-talent montage (featuring, among others, a rapping Rabbi) - has undoubtedly cemented the film's status as a cult curio, but the lack of character development and plot (combined with a distinctly humorless vibe) ensures that few viewers will find much here worth embracing.
Rikky and Pete
Rikky and Pete is a typically quirky, thoroughly low-key Australian comedy revolving around the adventures of the titular siblings, Rikky (Nina Landis) and Pete (Stephen Kearney). The two are forced to flee town due to Pete's increasingly volatile relationship with a local cop, stemming from a relentless series of pranks aimed against the officer. After a road trip through the Australian outback, Rikky and Pete find themselves in a small community - where Rikky gets a gig performing her songs in a club and Pete begins working in the nearby mine. Director Nadia Tass - working from a screenplay by David Parker - is clearly in no hurry to tell this tale, and consequently allows the film's events to unfold at a pace that's best described as leisurely. And while this does allow us to get to know (and like) these characters, it's virtually impossible to ever become completely wrapped up in the film's storyline. Still, Rikky and Pete is a hard movie to entirely dislike; both Landis and Kearney are superb in their roles, while the movie is peppered with a number of genuinely funny moments.