Guilt Complex

Forrest Gump's momma said it best: Stupid is as stupid does. Too bad Pauly Shore didn't grow up under her care, as well. Stupidity is not just another word to Totally Pauly. It's a vocation.

Dumber than Dumb and Dumber, Pauly's latest exercise in pointless poppycock and narcissistic nonsense is the awesomely unfunny Jury Duty. The release marks Shore's fourth feature in as many years, a pace that ought to frighten the bejesus out of anyone considering writing about film for a living. The threat of having to review one Pauly Shore movie annually should weed out the dilettantes from collegiate "Intro to Film Criticism" classes. It ain't all Tarantino, baby.

The makers of Jury Duty hope desperately to cash in on O.J.mania, and to that end have loaded up their film with gratuitous A and pedestrian A references to the Trial. Pauly plays a twentysomething goof-off and aspiring male stripper with no discernible talent A a character not unlike Shore himself, in other words A who, through the usual inane plot contrivances, winds up one of twelve jurors seated in the trial of a man accused of brutally filleting a diverse menu of fast-food restaurant employees.

The film opens and closes with Pauly as a male stripper. (Apparently, figuratively mooning the audience by churning out such a pathetic excuse for a movie wasn't enough.) Sandwiched between the shots of Pauly's cheeks are the usual belabored high jinks. Pauly disrupts the trial in a variety of ways, each more puerile than the one preceding it. Watch Pauly fall asleep and crash to the floor! Watch Pauly try to pass a come-on note to obligatory love interest-babe Tia Carrere (who honed her chops playing the same incredibly demanding role in the two Wayne's World epics), only to have it land in the accused killer's hands instead! Watch Pauly dress in drag in an attempt to get the truth out of the defendant! Watch Pauly take it up the backside and like it!

Ho-ho, that Pauly. Finally, when he has worn out every half-baked gag and limp premise he and his writers could muster, the lovable buffoon saves the day, atones for all his tomfoolery, and wins over the girl by discovering and apprehending the real killer. Interestingly, the murderer turns out to be an overly enthusiastic environmentalist. Has Pauly, in keeping with the national trend, embraced conservative politics? If so, should we take Jury Duty as a harbinger of things to come? Can we look forward to Pauly doing battle with pesky civil rights workers or unprincipled welfare cheats in the future? You can bet the Gingrich camp is holding its breath.

Before you write off this criticism of his film as the ranting of just another snooty film critic with no appreciation for popular culture, you should know this: I was actually a fan of Totally Pauly when the show appeared on MTV back in 1990. The format suited him perfectly A tiny doses of his self-parodying, second-generation-hippie addleheadedness provided welcome respites from interminable blocks of macho headbangers. But the key was that you had to put up with him only in 30-second bites, not 90-minute marathons. You can get too much of a good thing; ask anyone who ever has had friends or relatives drop by for a visit and overstay their welcome. It's the same thing with Beavis & Butt-head A they're infinitely funnier introducing and ridiculing pompous crotch-rock videos than they are in episodic 30-minute sit-com-like installments.

Jury Duty commits the only unpardonable crime in show business: It's boring.
Add Pauly Shore's Jury Duty to the list of blatant cash grabs by TV comedians of dubious talent currently stinking up the local cineplex. It joins Billy Madison (Adam Sandler) and Tommy Boy (David Spade) as a roadkill trio, damning indictments of the sorry state of American popular culture as seen through the eyes of Hollywood. Stuart Saves His Family A like Wayne's World, Coneheads, and It's Pat before it, a three-minute Saturday Night Live sketch padded out to an hour and a half in length A looks like a droll masterpiece by contrast. But those two words A by contrast A are mighty important.

Al Franken reprises his shtick as lisping new-age self-help guru Stuart Smalley ("I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me"). Franken, a long-time SNL contributor, has a keen ear for the convoluted gibberish and reassuring platitudes of the twelve-step generation; his movie jokes are dry and his delivery deadpan. Like Wayne and Garth, Stuart hosts a little-watched public-access TV show in Chicago. The film's plot is thin as fishing line: While Stuart none-too-serenely comes to grips with the news that his show has been canceled by a heartless station head, he attends the funeral of a favorite aunt, becomes enmeshed in a dispute with his dysfunctional family, and eventually pulls off the feat described in the film's title.

Stuart Saves His Family is far sharper and wittier than that brief synopsis might lead one to believe. Franken slices and dices with skill and precision. In fact his delivery is so droll that audiences trained to guffaw at the exaggerated, superficial idiocy of Sandler and Shore probably won't get it. Unfortunately, despite Franken's wit, there's no escaping the feeling that you're watching a 90-minute movie that should have been half as long. Stuart Saves His Family isn't for everyone; if you hated the sketch on Saturday Night Live, nothing here will convert you. But for filmgoers starved for comedy more sophisticated than pratfalls and fart jokes, Stuart Smalley may just have the answer.


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