Oys in the Hood

What is it about summer weather that propagates bad comedies like Nebraska corn? Anyone who has suffered through Life with Mikey, Son-in-law, Weekend at Bernie's Part 2, Dennis the Menace, Hocus Pocus, and Another Stakeout knows what to expect if the sewer line beneath Biscayne Bay finally blows: wave after wave of unrelenting crap. Now Robin Hood, Men in Tights and Coneheads have bubbled up from the depths to join the floating swill.

Speaking of excrement, Mel Brooks has never been one to shy away from the caca joke. Hard-core Brooks fans will no doubt be cheered to hear that his latest anthology of scatological wisecracks, groan-inducing puns, and sophomoric slapstick is chock-full of poop, piss, and fart gags. And let's not forget those ever-popular mincing homosexual, funny-looking orthodox Jew, and jive Negro characters Brooks is so fond of. Married with Children is high Shakespearean farce by comparison.

The days when Brooks was capable of turning out a Young Frankenstein or The Producers are long gone. Unfortunately Hollywood doesn't have some sort of mandatory retirement system.

Richard Pryor had a hand in Blazing Saddles. Gene Wilder co-wrote Young Frankenstein. Maybe what Men in Tights needed was a collaborator of their stature to steer Brooks away from the cheap laughs. Left to his own devices he dives right in after the lowest common denominator. The result is bluebirds dumping on Maid Marian and pet lizards soiling Dom DeLuise's palm.

Even the target of Brooks's satire this time around is a lazy choice. In his better parodies, the comedian took aim at entire genres: Westerns (Blazing Saddles), gothic horror (Young Frankenstein), silent films (Silent Movie), and Hitchcockian suspense (High Anxiety). History of the World, Part I was nothing if not ambitious. But Spaceballs lowered the stakes and narrowed the scope to the Star Wars trilogy, and Men in Tights reduces the mark to a single movie, Kevin Costner's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which is neither particularly interesting nor timely.

Brooks has become complacent, and the most damning evidence is his eagerness to recycle bits from his own oeuvre. Prince John, played by perpetually kvetching comedian Richard Lewis, has a facial mole that changes location from scene to scene. When asked about it, he deadpans, "I have a mole?" It's a pale appropriation of Marty Feldman's infamous "Hump? What hump?" line from Young Frankenstein. There's also a riff on the old "walk this way" routine, and the film ends with Robin Hood naming a black man Sheriff of Rottingham. Brooks doesn't stop there, content to let the few audience members old enough to remember Blazing Saddles savor an inside joke. He has the sheriff turn to the camera and remark upon the scene's similarity to the earlier film. You'd think someone with Brooks's seasoning would have implicitly understood the distinction between milking a punch line and engaging in overkill. Alas, such is not the case.

Watching a once-sharp master of parody like Mel Brooks degenerate into a lazy schlockmeister is no easy task for fans of his early work. There are few sights in this world as pathetic as that of a man sacrificing his last shred of dignity. Richard Nixon protesting his innocence, Jimmy Swaggart confessing his sins, Dan Quayle mashing "potatoe" -- even if you never liked the men, the broadcast images of their pathetic behavior were hard to stomach. To the list of disgraceful self-abasement we can now add the sorry spectacle of Dan Aykroyd in full Conehead regalia shamelessly plugging his latest blatant attempt to cash in on his Saturday Night Live fame, from scarfing a twelve-inch for Subway to gracing the cover of Playboy.

Aykroyd has been floundering for some time now. There have been occasional blips in the downward-sloping career path, such as his supporting role in 1991's My Girl, but for every Ghostbusters, Driving Miss Daisy, or Trading Places, there's been an offsetting Ghostbusters II, Loose Cannons, or Nothing but Trouble. And let us not forget Doctor Detroit, The Great Outdoors, The Couch Trip, 1941, and Spies Like Us. Aykroyd is a veritable one-man cottage industry in cheesy cinema.

Coneheads has its moments, but it's essentially a one-joke movie. The pointy skulls, the goofy lingo ("molten lactate extract of hooved animals" = melted cheese), the illegal alien story line (Michael McKean acquits himself nicely as a by-the-book INS agent), and the dozens of cameos by SNL alumni could have made for a tight fifteen-minute sketch. Unfortunately, the movie stretches to nearly six times that length.

Can Bass-o-matic, the Movie be much worse?

 
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