What sort of filmmakers could possibly think it a good idea
to title their picture “Screwed”? Don’t they realize the
critical comments they’re inviting?

In this instance, the perpetrators are Scott Alexander and
Larry Karaszewski, an intermittently successful writing duo
(they penned the excellent “Ed Wood” and “The People vs. Larry
Flynt,” but also the first two “Problem Child” pictures and
“Man in the Moon”) who are here taking a first stab at co-
directing, too. The result is an abysmally painful “wacky”
comedy about a put-upon butler (Norm MacDonald) who, with the
doubtful assistance of an inept buddy (David Chappelle), tries
to kidnap the pooch beloved of his grumpy old employer (Elaine
Stritch); when that fails, however, he pretends to have been
snatched himself, leading to all sorts of complications as the
cops get involved, the bumbling pair recruits a mortuary worker
(Danny DeVito, back in Full Penguin Mode) to provide a body
they can pass off as MacDonald’s, and Stritch’s corporate
underlings (Sherman Hemsley and Malcolm Stewart) seek to turn
the situation to their own corrupt benefit.

Obviously the intent was to fashion a wild, anarchically
amusing sort of farce, but nothing works. The situations pile
up chaotically, without the inner logic needed for an amusingly
complicated comedic situation to develop, and the cast
abandons every hint of subtlety in a futile attempt to generate
a few laughs. It’s hardly surprising that MacDonald and
Chappelle resort to such rabid hamminess, but it’s depressing
to see old pros DeVito, Stritch and Hemsley deliver shrill,
bug-eyed performances that are instantly irritating. (It’s
cruel, incidentally, to force the audience to observe both
Stritch and Hemsley in various states of undress at this
advanced stage of their careers.)

“Screwed” is also tonally way off, with surprisingly unpleasant
bursts of violence periodically punctuating the supposedly
comic antics. When one watches as gushes of MacDonald’s
blood splatter over walls when Stritch’s dog bites into his
hand during the initial kidnapping, the effect is about as far
from funny as one could imagine; it’s positively revolting.

Given the miserable quality of the picture, it’s hardly
surprising that the turkey’s been sitting on a studio shelf
for a couple of years; and as is usual in such cases, it’s
only gotten more fetid with age. There are signs that someone
tinkered with it prior to release–chunks of necessary
exposition (especially material related to MacDonald’s
girlfriend Sarah Silverman, who pops up without without being
introduced and then reappears without rhyme or reason
thereafter) are lacking, presumably lopped off by the blade
of some editor. Under normal circumstances one might grumble
that the attenuation impedes the coherence of the story, but
in this case it’s what’s been allowed to remain that’s a valid
cause for complaint; surely no one will want any more of