Is there anything more desperate — or numbing — than a movie that keeps trying to make you laugh and keeps falling on its face? In today’s Hollywood, comedies that don’t work end up whacking you over the head with ”concept.” The result is frequently an experience that takes more energy than it gives.
The premise of Doc Hollywood (Directed by Michael Caton-Jones) sounds like the jumping-off point for last week’s failed sitcom. Ben Stone (Michael J. Fox), a young physician on his way to Los Angeles to become a rich plastic surgeon, crashes his Porsche into a white picket fence in Grady, S.C., the squash capital of the South and a town bursting with daffy eccentrics. Forced to spend several days doing community service in the local hospital, he loosens up and finds true love with a sexy, politically correct earth mother (Julie Warner). A ’90s hybrid of Green Acres and Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero, Doc Hollywood was directed by the Scottish-born Michael Caton-Jones, who seems to think he’s captured the real America by turning it into a haven for lovable cretins. Fox performs with his usual Swiss-watch timing, but he had better lines on Family Ties. Here, he’s reduced to walking around town with a pet pig. By the end, we’re supposed to buy that the same characters who have been treated with flagrant condescension for nearly two hours have now reawakened Fox’s spirit, making him reconsider his Selfish Yuppie Ways.
Speaking of spiritual awakenings, Mel Brooks appears to have undergone one in order to make Life Stinks, the story of ruthless billionaire Goddard Bolt (Brooks), who, as part of a bet, agrees to spend 30 days on skid row. Instead of a crazed Brooksian farce about life on the bottom rung, Life Stinks turns out to be a surprisingly low-key Chaplinesque fable. There’s nothing wrong with Brooks trying to shift gears and create a human comedy about homelessness. But he’s made a fatal mistake: Except for a few scenes, he’s left out the jokes. By the time our fallen hero finds romance with Lesley Ann Warren (as the most ravishing bag lady in history), the movie seems little more than an overly earnest lesson in compassion — Brooks’ ever-so-slightly wacky version of a celebrity fund-raiser.
In the slapstick fantasy Delirious(Directed By Tom Mankiewicz), John Candy plays a soap opera writer-producer who finds himself trapped in the middle of his own serial. The premise sounds clever, especially when you learn that Candy can bend reality to his whims simply by sitting down at the typewriter and plotting out what everyone is going to do next. Yet this pushy, plastic farce never makes good on its central gag. The characters are such one-dimensional nothings that there’s no exhilaration in seeing them manipulated by Candy the lovable nerd.
Midway through Another You (Directed by Maurice Phillips), Richard Pryor, as a con man named Eddie, has to get up in front of a jazz band and play the saxophone; all he can produce is a series of embarrassing squawks. The scene plays as an uncomfortable metaphor for Pryor’s own tragic decline. The greatest stand-up comic of our time, he has become a ghostly parody of a comedian, and Another You, which marks his fourth pairing with Gene Wilder, is the saddest, most slapdash vehicle of his career. By the time this barely coherent mistaken-identity farce wheezes to its finale, you’ve entered that summer-movie realm known as Comedy Hell — a place where the last laugh is always on the audience.
Doc Hollywood: C
Life Stinks: C-
Another You: F