The Beverly Hillbillies
1993, PG, 92 min. Directed by Penelope Spheeris. Starring Jim Varney, Diedrich Bader, Erika Eleniak, Cloris Leachman, Lily Tomlin.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 15, 1993
Director Penelope Spheeris once again dives head-first into the American cultural crater (Wayne's World, The Boys Next Door, Suburbia, The Decline of Western Civilization) and comes up with, if not diamonds, then at least the cultural equivalent of a lava lamp. The Beverly Hillbillies wisely emphasizes the Clampett clan's enduring popular strength -- that of the uncouth bumpkins amongst the two-faced swells -- rather than playing to its crudest common denominator of dumb hick humor and moonshine stereotypes. Don't get me wrong. This is not cerebral humor. It's just that there were a lot of different paths this movie spin-off could have taken and the low road is not one of them. There's just enough plot to keep things moving but never too much that it gets in the way of the basic fish-out-of-water gagfest. The Beverly Hillbillies' greatest achievement is its inspired casting. The characterizations are all perfect, pushing things to the edge of silliness but minus the cornpone. As patriarch Jed Clampett, Jim Varney emerges from his Vern and Ernest characters with spectacular results. Let's hope he's not now stuck playing Jed for the rest of his career. And who on earth could you hire to out-slime Dabney Coleman's unctuous villainy? Why, Rob Schneider, of course. And since this is Beverly Hills, we're treated to cameos from Buddy Ebsen, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Dolly Parton. I'm consciously staying away from the issues raised by the recent glut of feature movies based on old TV shows. There will be treatises to read on the subject shortly. All I'd like to suggest is that we not accept it all passively, that we consider why we're lulled by the familiar and comforted by repetition. The basic problem with The Beverly Hillbillies is that it need not be a movie. It could be a TV special just as successfully. And I suspect that in future years we'll find ourselves saying precisely the same thing about its sequels. The one thing The Beverly Hillbillies movie guarantees is that “y'all come back now, hear.”