Friday, January 12, 2007

The Movies of Saturday Night Live

In the fall of 1975, the Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players changed history. Under the tutelage of creator/producer Lorne Michaels, the ensemble cast of Aykroyd, Belushi, Chase, Radner, et al presented satirical comedy sketches that represented the attitudes of the counterculture. Saturday Night Live is nearly twenty-five-years old and one of television’s most recognized franchises with books, videos, T-shirts, collectibles and, most notably, a string of movies that range from classic to poop.

The first was The Blues Brothers. Technically, The Blues Brothers weren’t SNL characters, but musical guests. Perhaps, that is why The Blues Brothers is so good. Although the film was a box office failure with mixed critical reviews, The Blues Brothers has stood the test of time. It’s a hilarious movie filled with priceless bits, terrific music, and Illinois’ Nazis.

Nine seasons and seven major cast changes passed between The Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World. It’s a good thing Lorne Michaels waited. Had he soiled our perceptions with Hanz and Franz, Pumping You Up in Theaters Summer 1989, You Can Be A Ho: The Velvet Jones Story, or Church Chat: The Motion Picture, we would not have expected the wonderful, funny little film that Wayne’s World turned out to be. An inspired string of comic bits, loosely held together by a nominal plot, this one-note sketch featuring Mike Myers and Dana Carvey became a multi-leveled self-aware gutbuster in the deft hands of helmer Penelope Spheeris. The cast is hilarious, especially Chris Farley in a cameo role that’s arguably his best screen work.

Wayne’s World II wasn’t bad, either. Blues Brothers 2000 was awful.

The Coneheads hit theatres some fifteen years after the joke had grown thin. This dismal affair resurrected Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin as Beldar and Prymaat. Producer Lorne Michaels must have forsaken his signature glass of red wine in favor of whatever “mass quantities” of prescription cough medicine Dan Aykroyd and Tom Davis were “consuming” when they decided to write this unfunny script.

“I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And dog-gone-it, people like me.” Unfortunately, people didn’t really like Stuart Saves His Family about Al Franken’s psycho-babbling Stuart Smalley and the dysfunctional household that made him the wreck he is. Director Harold Ramis made a well-cast, well-written comedy that somehow just misses the mark. Ultimately Stuart Saves His Family doesn’t stand up to other Ramis’ films like Caddyshack, Vacation or the recent Analyze This.

It’s Pat, the notoriously heinous feature-length version of Julia Sweeney’s androgynous SNL character is significant for three reasons. Firstly, the film was apparently deemed so awful that Touchstone released it only one theatre before banishing it direct-to-video. Secondly, Quentin Tarantino was an uncredited writer. Thirdly, It’s Pat is not that bad. The lame premise of the sketch–that whoever encounters Pat is kept guessing as to his/her ambiguous sexuality–is actually explored in the movie as a journey of self-acceptance in which she romances an androgynous bartender, Chris, played with wonderfully comic sensitivity by Dave Foley.

It’s Pat is certainly more inventive then the latest exercise in rotten, A Night at The Roxbury. Based on the cleverly named Roxbury Guys, a hack of Steve Martin and John Belushi’s Festrunk Brothers, these wild and crazy guys, played dully by Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell, like the titular nightclub, should be shut down and replaced by sushi.

Unfortunately, the same writer who penned …Roxbury also wrote the forthcoming Superstar featuring the only clever character from the past few seasons: Molly Shannon’s Mary Catherine Gallagher. But with Kid-in-the-Hall Bruce McCullough directing this story about the Catholic schoolgirl with stars in her eyes, Superstar might just prove to be worthy of the legacy of Wayne’s World.

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