1997, PG, 103 min. Directed by Brian Robbins. Starring Kel Mitchell, Kenan Thompson, Sinbad, Abe Vigoda, Shar Jackson, Dan Schneider, Jan Schwieterman, George Clinton.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 1, 1997
Teen comics Kel Mitchell and Kenan Thompson break out from the kid pack with their first feature film Good Burger and in one broad stroke announce their comedy teamwork as a force to be reckoned with. The movie is an extension of a popular skit on Nickelodeon's all-kids sketch comedy show All That. Mitchell and Thompson's success on that show led to their own breakout show Kenan & Kel and this movie, which is presented by the new Nickelodeon Movies division. I suspect Mitchell and Thompson are going to be around for a good long while; their clowning talent is as apparent as their schtick is derivative. With time for development and advancement to the ripe old age of twentysomething and beyond, these teens might indeed become enduring comedy pillars. Mind you, I don't think they'll ever really “mature”; maturity would be antithetical to their act. Dumb fun is the name of their game: dumb fun and deft teamwork, the kind that recalls the likes of such teams as Abbott & Costello and Martin & Lewis. These are clearly the exalted levels of idiocy to which Mitchell and Thompson aspire. Admittedly, these are not humor models that appeal to all tastes, but it's impossible to deny their popularity and durability. Mitchell is the tall one with the gift for physical humor, the froggy vocal inflections, and the oblivious instinct for herding the duo into another fine mess after mess; Thompson is the one with the variable facial expressions and the grounded capability of advancing the plot. The point is to plop these guys in a situation and then let them run wild, thus it's of little consequence that Good Burger has a storyline that's negligible and an utterly plastic visual sensibility. What's said is not what counts: As the character of Ed, Thompson can extract big laughs just by saying, “Welcome to Good Burger, home of the Good Burger. Can I take your order?” It's all in the “how” not the “what” he says. Although you do have to wonder at times if Ed's semantic negotiations are the work of an utter imbecile or a wily deconstructionist. When the bully from the rival Mondo Burger outlet advises Ed that he had better watch his ass and Ed obediently circles backward like a dog chasing his tail, well… it's not quite “Who's on First” but it's definitely in a nearby ballpark. What this would-be Martin & Lewis now need to find is their Frank Tashlin, a comedic visual stylist who can up the package's ante. Good Burger wastes so many opportunities (why, for instance, bother to build Ed's Pee-wee's Playhouse-like bedroom set and never return to it after the opening sequence?) and its flat, minimalist TV aesthetic appears shallowly artificial when projected on the big screen. A well-chosen soundtrack backdrop adds some extra punch to the storyline, and the funk master George Clinton pops up to lead a chorus line of mental patients in a few verses of his tune “Knee Deep.” Other cameos include Shaquille O'Neal as a perfunctory Good Burger shill and Robert Wuhl as an exasperated customer. Sinbad contributes a spirited performance as the teens' fashion-challenged teacher, the man who bears the brunt of their mayhem. Good Burger is not fully cooked but it provides a taste of things to come.