with John Goodman, Rick Moranis, Elizabeth Perkins, Halle Berry,
Rosie O'Donnell, Kyle McLachlan, Elizabeth Taylor
The Beverly Hillbillies
D. Penelope Spheeris (1993)
with Jim Varney, Cloris Leachman, Diedrich Bader, Dabney Coleman,
Lea Thompson, Lily Tomlin
The Addams Family
D. Barry Sonnenfeld (1991)
with Anjelica Huston, Raul Julia, Christopher Lloyd, Dan Hedaya, Christina Ricci
For better or for worse, the recycled TV series has become a fairly reliable Hollywood formula for hit movies. I'll decline to comment on why that has come about, but here are three of the better examples that have come out in recent years.
32 writers reportedly had a hand in writing The Flintstones, which would seem to bode ill for the plot, but it still turns out to be a surprisingly watchable spectacle, thanks mainly to a gargantuan budget and a free rein on set design and art direction. Kyle ("whatever happened to my career?") McLachlan plays an evil executive who plots with hottie Halle Berry to set up Fred (Goodman) in an embezzling scheme; soon Fred finds himself awash in cash at Cavern on the Green rather than RocDonald's. He callously fires best friend Barney (Moranis) and lives the country-club life before the whole thing starts caving in on him. Trite, huh? Aw, who the hell cares?! Goodman's bulk and mannerisms make him the perfect Fred, Moranis is spot-on as the dimwitted Barney, Rosie O'Donnell has Betty's giggle down pat, and Elizabeth Perkins ... well, she just looks a lot like Wilma. Liz Taylor nearly steals the show as Fred's shrill, yammering harpy of a mother-in-law. Listen closely for Harvey Korman's voice as the Dictabird; you can also spot Jonathan Winters, Jay Leno, and Jean VanDerPyl (Wilma's original voice actress) in cameos if you're attentive enough. There's the problem of a movie made from a cartoon that's already a derivative of The Honeymooners, but just think of it as an enormous live-action cartoon. Got any kids? You can watch it together without your eyes glazing over. (Career suggestions for Kyle McLachlan: l) With that hair, take a shot at the next film that features Hitler; 2) get cast in a whodunit with you, Evil Dead's Bruce Campbell, and Dharma and Greg's Thomas Gibson as suspects; 3) somehow have Showgirls expunged from your resumé.)
I'll make no bones about this: To this day I think that the sublimely lowbrow Beverly Hillbillies is one of the funniest damn sitcoms ever to make it onto TV. Hell, I even own a 45 of "Granny's Miniskirt" by Irene Ryan (on Nashwood Records. Yes, it sounds about like you would expect it to). The impossibly hayseed heroes, the many, many comedies of errors, the painted-with-a-roller characters of Mr. Drysdale and Miss Jane, the vehicles supplied by Chrysler ... but I digress. I had low expectations for a big-screen version, but I was pleasantly surprised. The Clampetts and their kin make it over to Los Ang-a-leez and meet with the same misunderstandings and confusion of the TV series; in this gossamer plot, Rob Schneider and the ever-so-adorable Lea Thompson plot to marry off Jed and swindle him out of his fortune. Though this story wears thinner as the minutes go on, the characterizations are flawless. With Buddy Ebsen about 50 years too old for the part (though he was trundled out for a cameo as Barnaby Jones), Jim Varney is Jed Clampett, as they mistake the upraised middle finger for how folks say "howdy" in L.A. Jethro is a character who has such a subhumanly low level of intellect that he (along with Homer Simpson and Green Acres' Hank Kimball) would never be able to survive, were he a real person; Diedrich Bader plays the grinning, guileless dimbulb to fourth-grade-education perfection. Lily Tomlin holds down the Miss Jane Hathaway character just fine, and Cloris Leachman dutifully fills in as the stubborn Granny. Aside from that, what is there to say about it? It's a series of featherweight gags, buzzing around a plot as scrawny as a starvin' hound dog. Note: A cameo musical number by Dolly Parton will have you diving for cover under your couch!!
The favorite ghouls of Sixties TV make it to the big screen, losing little in the translation. The screen version is much closer in spirit and execution to the Charles Addams cartoons from the New Yorker ("Unhappy, dear?" "Perfectly!"), with a somewhat darker brand of humor than the sitcom had. A phony Uncle Fester (Lloyd) turns up on the Addams' doorstep, claiming to have been lost in the Bermuda Triangle for the last 25 years, in hopes of inheriting the Addams' immense fortune. Things don't quite work out to suit the faux Fester's machinations, but he winds up so enamored of the family that he can't bring himself to take advantage of them after all. Got it? That's it! The strength of the movie lies in the characterizations and overall mood; the set designs are positively ooky, with a drab, sepia palette of colors in nearly every shot. Raul Julia is perfect as Gomez, even to the point of being driven into an erotic frenzy whenever the slinky Morticia (Huston) speaks French. And yes, when frustrated, Gomez goes to the cellar to stage spectacular model-train collisions. Jimmy Workman is the roly-poly Puggsley, jolly and fiendish at the same time, but the show-stealer is the dry-as-a-mummy-fart performance of Christina Ricci as the deadpan Wednesday. With several years in between, it's strange as hell to see preteen Christina and then think of the indie-film workhorse that Christina is today. Sonnenfeld did a better job of stretching the half-hour sitcom into the 90-minute feature film than most people do, though it does drag a bit in places. Tagline from the ad campaign: "It's not the same old Thing."
-- Jerry Renshaw