A Mixed Bag of Junk-Food Films For Empty-Calorie Summer Viewing
From an ax-murderer bride to Salem witches, it's the season for goofy movies
DENVER — BIG brash action movies or "lite" comedies. Must be summer. Hollywood's junk-food flicks have been piling up like Twinkies in the local theaters for the past couple of months, attracting kids and their parents for two hours of air-conditioned "goof-ballery." Most of the comedies are harmless enough, and some are even mildly entertaining.
Among the latest: "So I Married an Axe Murderer," "Coneheads," Robin Hood: Men in Tights," "Hocus Pocus," "Another Stakeout."
So I Married an Axe Murderer features the engaging and ingenious Mike Myers as a young man who fears commitment in love. He has a penchant for bad performance poetry (delivered in witty parody of the real thing) and dumping women he ought to love, convincing himself they are capable of despicable things. When he finally meets the "right" girl (Nancy Travis), she seems to have one tiny flaw - murdering husbands on her honeymoon.
"Axe Murderer" resembles a dozen other films, yet it has its one charm - Myers himself, who sometimes borders on being adorable but is smart enough never to sink the viewer in gooey sweetness.
The movie is filled with terrific little cameo performances - Phil Hartman as a sinister prison tour guide (ex-guard) named Viki; Amanda Plummer as the goofy sister of the bride; Alan Arkin as a police chief pretending to be tough to please an undercover cop with "Miami Vice" fantasies; and Myers playing the Scottish father of his character.
You may feel trapped in a "Saturday Night Live" skit part of the time; the silly plot doesn't hang together well, and too many bawdy jokes misfire. Nevertheless, a sweetness pervades the film, which provides a generous view of human nature.
Dan Aykroyd wrote Coneheads, taking off from a skit he used to do with Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman back in the early days of "Saturday Night Live" (SNL). Dan and Jane are back together for the film, which features the Coneheads' arrival on Earth from space, their nasty eating habits, peculiar speech patterns, and average American teenage daughter. A host of SNL regulars, past and present, contribute amusing cameos.
Aykroyd's comedy is extreme and bizarre, sometimes even gross, but often endearing and rich in amusing parody of contemporary American society. Despite some crass sight gags, the film might have been called "Conehead Family Values" because it's all about a loving family trying to assimilate into American culture.
The central joke of the film concerns immigration officials and the true meaning of the term "illegal aliens."
The humor often borders on bawdy and may not be appropriate for younger viewers. But "Coneheads" has its moments and certainly far outshines a stinker like Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
"Robin Hood" is surely one of Mel Brooks's worst disasters. It is so predictable and silly that not even the handsome Cary Elwes, the swashbuckling star of "The Princess Bride," can deliver these broad lines with grace. A self-conscious parody of Kevin Costner's awkward version of the romantic tale, Brooks's "Robin Hood" isn't witty enough to roast its predecessor, let alone make us laugh. Brooks's "Spaceballs" seems like a laugh riot in comparison.
Disney's Hocus Pocus, if frequently saccharine, at least has the power to engage the viewer. It features Bette Midler as a buck-toothed witch right out of the 17th century, returning one 20th-century Halloween night with her two sisters (the ample and hilarious Kathy Najimy and the sweetly screwball Sarah Jessica Parker), to seek immortality and suck up the "life-force" of all the children in Salem, Mass.
The three Sanderson sisters are too caricatured to frighten children, but I found the emphasis on witchcraft uncomfortable. Also off-putting was the killing of a child in the film's beginning, but two little girls sitting in front of me did not appear to be disturbed.
The witches meet their match in three young people and a talking cat. The underlying message tries to encourage sibling affection. It's forced, awkward, and unbelievable, but better than other messages in the film - like how stupid and unresponsive parents are.
Another Stakeout boasts a fine cast, but the writing is so uneven and the plot so poorly developed that the film's few amusing moments get lost. The talents of Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez seem wasted on this lumbering farce. Two undercover cops pursue a state witness who is hiding from the mob. This time they are joined by an incompetent district attorney, the stand-up comedienne Rosie O'Donnell, who provides most of the comedy in the picture. Posing as a married couple, Dreyfuss and O'Donnell sp ar like seasoned combatants. Estevez is always tangential, and the job the three are out to do never seems to matter much.