Tag Archives: F

SCREWED

F

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
“Screwed.”

READY TO RUMBLE

F

A movie made by yahoos for yahoos, “Ready to Rumble” tries to
capitalize on the current inexplicable professional wrestling
craze by serving up on the big screen the same nauseating
mixture of grossness, stupidity and carnage that TV versions
of the phenomenon provide. David Arquette and Scott Caan star
(presumably because Charlie and Emilio, the duo one might
expect in such an appalling buddy farce, found the material
below even them) as a couple of dim-bulb guys who, in addition
to driving a septic truck (allowing for much excrement-based
gross-out “humor”), are the biggest fans of champion grappler
Jimmy King (Oliver Platt). When their idol is treacherously
dethroned and banished from the ring by Vince McMahonish
promoter Titus Sinclair (Joe Pantoliano), the intrepid duo
seek out the has-been star to lure him back into the ring to
recapture the crown. Their efforts involve them with a sultry
siren working for Sinclair (Rose McGowan) and an ancient
trainer (Martin Landau), as well as a bevy of wrestlers playing
themselves.

The professional wrestling game is certainly ripe for satire,
but this ham-fisted effort lacks any hint of the shrewdness
and subtlety that would be needed to bring such a project off.
Relentlessly lowbrow and unimaginably crude, it’s the comic
equivalent of the kick-to-the-crotch that recurs with wearisome
regularity in the action in and outside the ring; and whenever
the story aims for sentiment rather than bombastic farce, it
gets even worse. (The violence, it must be said, is also
surprising graphic for a farce.) For all this scripter Steven
Brill, who earlier wrote the three “Mighty Ducks” disasters and directed
the frenetically unfunny (and offensive) Disney catastrophe
“Heavyweights,” must be held primarily responsible.

But director Brian Robbins (“Good Burger,” “Varsity Blues”)
deserves his share of the blame, too, since it was he who
must have encouraged his cast to such extraordinary levels of
excess. Arquette and Caan apparently are reaching for the
kind of dubious chemistry that Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels
managed in “Dumb and Dumber,” but their pairing doesn’t set
off similar sparks, even if they go for the superlative degree
of the adjective. Oliver Platt, fine farceur though he is, is
miscast as King; he doesn’t have the physique to persuade us
that he could be even a third-tier wrestler, let alone a champ.
Even sadder is Martin Landau, who mugs shamelessly as Platt’s
elderly trainer. Indeed, about the only real humor resulting
from Platt and Landau’s involvement involves watching their
obvious stand-ins cavorting in the ring with faces obscured
to suggest that we’re actually seeing the actors. The
effect is not, shall we say, convincing.

Surprisingly enough, it’s the true wrestlers who come across
best–they’re actually more subdued than the professional
actors. Perhaps if, instead of going with Platt, the makers
had used a real grappler in the starring role (and had toned
down the script’s fouler moments), they might have had a chance
of ending up with something presentable. (And in that case
the repeated use of Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” as
part of the score might not have seemed as blasphemous as it
does now.) But such was not the case.

It’s really difficult to express how painful it is to sit
through “Ready To Rumble.” Just think of it as the cinematic
equivalent of a body-slam in which the viewer is on the
receiving end. One comes out gasping for air not because of
the force of the blow, however, but simply as a result of the
rancid comic atmosphere you’ve had to endure for the past
hundred minutes.