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LAST STRETCH AND DECLINE OF RODNEY DANGERFIELD CINEMA

Twelve Year Decline of Rodney Dangerfield Movies from 1992 to 2004
Rodney Dangerfield was one of the most beloved comedic actors of all time. His edgy persona derived from his origin as a standup comic and, struggling at first, he found his "No Respect" but still, there was something missing...

When he turned fifty, the age most comic-actors would be considered has-beens, he was cast in a now classic golf comedy, CADDYSHACK, that was originally written about the caddies, like ANIMAL HOUSE (with the same co-writers, SHACK director Harold Ramis and Doug Kenney) centered on the Delta fraternity house. It's impossible to imagine the evil Dean Wormer (John Vernon) and the hippie professor (Donald Sutherland) as the focal points, leaving all but one rebellious frat boy in the buried lead role, like Michael O'Keefe's Danny Noonan in CADDYSHACK... But sometimes the side-characters shine brighter than the leads, or at least the most memorable, iconic...

Rodney Dangerfield in Ladybugs
Using Ted Knight, playing Bushwood Country Club's uptight, neurotic owner, as his personal target, scene-stealer Dangerfield's one-liners are the most remembered and quoted, to this day... 

He crashes the proverbial party and runs and runs with it, right into what comedy legend's made of... 

And three years later he's forced to quit drinking and smoking for EASY MONEY left by his bitch mother-in-law. The story has moments and fits Rodney's loose personality, and has its own quaint following but can't hold a torch to either CADDYSHACK or BACK TO SCHOOL, which would have been the perfect swan song and, in a way, it is...

Anita Brown and Rodney Dangerfield with Jud Tylor
He entered his sixties as the 1980's flowed into the 1990's, and the Rodney Dangerfield Cinema would die-out — not with a bang but a prolonged whimper (not counting small parts in other people's movies ala LITTLE NIKKI and NATURAL BORN KILLERS)...

In five roles, from a kid's movie to a daytime talk show parody to an operatic fantasy to a Mormon satire to a prison escape ensemble, our man, and everybody's favorite sloppy uncle, went downhill, gathering moss along the way as, while aging, his one-liners that once flowed as if his own natural words seemed like, sadly enough, repetitive quips noticeably written by other comics. so let us get started with...

Action shot
Judging by title and description, it would seem that LADYBUGS would be the worst and the attempted "shock comedy" MEET WALLY SPARKS the best — it's the complete opposite. While the kid's movie about Rodney's desperate corporate climber coaching his boss's daughter's soccer team is far beneath his standards, especially if graded on the past 1980's curve, there's enough lightweight entertainment to pull the vehicle through albeit with random observations about things that only matter for that particular moment... which all pass very quickly.

Obviously a homage to THE BAD NEWS BEARS, young. tragic child/teen star Jonathan Brandis is a hybrid of cool, semi-rebellious team ringer Kelly Leak, especially since he choses to play after falling for the boss's daughter, portrayed by model-in-waiting, future EYES WIDE SHUT hooker Vinessa Shaw... And Brandis also represents THE BEARS other ringer: since he's in drag he's also Tatum O'Neal, being a terrific athlete with built-in talent. While she was the only girl on THE BEARS, Brandis is the only boy although dressed like a girl. Since so many movies have this kind of TOOTSIE set-up, one major plus is the central sham/ruse remains in the peripheral as Rodney hides the boy-girl away from his girlfriend, who's the kid's mom in the usual THREE'S COMPANY style shtick...

Year: 1992 Camp Value: ***1/2
For instance, in one scene Rodney and Jonathan's shoes are shown from the bottom of a dressing room door, talking sports yet sounding sexual. There are other creepy moments with other "dirty" innuendos that just don't feel right here. Perhaps Rodney's giving a nod to his core fans, who were once college partiers and now have children of their own. But who exactly is this movie catered to?

And Rodney's as out of place as the director, the once creative auteur, Sidney J. Furie... Although, unlike the couple Dangerfield flicks he'd direct later, the soccer scenes do flow well. Anyone who remembers the movie that influenced Stanley Kubrick's FULL METAL JACKET, introducing future cult icon/ex military man R. Lee Ermy, titled THE BOYS OF COMPANY C, won't be surprised how the director was at home on the soccer field — in BOYS, that particular sport turned out more important than the war itself. Who knows if that's how Rodney found his own personal stock filmmaker... Most likely, not. But it's something to consider anyway.

It's anyone's guess why Milton Berle wasn't considered for this
Following BACK TO SCHOOL, a continuation of "the Classic Rodney" would have been welcome. But he's not alone in making the latter films not work so well...

The LADYBUGS side characters, including black woman stereotype Jackée, are intrusive and annoying but most of the film centers on the step father and his son-in-drag, and also, surprisingly enough, the young actual girls on the team — each with their own pros and cons — aren't as annoying as one might think. Brandis also does a good enough job as the second banana. LADYBUGS, despite the breezy, time-filling, guilty pleasure aspect, is the first of four Dangerfield movies where he's the star but seems more a Special Guest in someone else's television pilot. You name the actor/comic... it wouldn't have made a difference who was in the leading role...

Sparks is thin for Dangerfield
Can this be said about CADDYSHACK? The answer is one of the worst sequels of all time, CADDYSHACK 2, where another Jewish New York comic, Jackie Mason, replaced the spot Rodney wisely turned down. Here, though, the jokes are merely repeated from several other movies. "When she walks into a room," he says of the visitor team's ugly woman coach, played by PORKY'S pickle-grabber Nancy Parsons, "the mice jump on chairs." Gone are the days of, "Now I know why tigers eat their young," which were insults the character's deserved. And yet, as underwhelming as all these post-SCHOOL comedies are, they still beat the hell outta that horrendous, catastrophic sequel our man wisely turned down...

Which leads to an attempted comeback of his cocky firebrand persona... There's a feeling in the opening MEET WALLY SPARKS that, unlike his last picture, this time he's catering to the cool dudes who know his vintage lines by heart and soul  from the good old days. While he's not an obnoxious millionaire insulting everyone around him, the performance relies on the character simply being who he is: a daytime talkshow host as if Phil Donahue mated with Howard Stern... In fact, Stern, who helped Rodney promote the film, is even mentioned more than a few times (while Stuttering John has an "inside joke" cameo).

Burt Reynolds with Rodney
The first twenty or so minutes sets up Rodney's Wally Sparks as an entertainer ahead of his time, and about to get canned by boss Burt Reynolds, not a bad guy which is left to his "brown nose" jerky assistant. There's a lightweight charm about WALLY until it becomes a single location stage play of sorts, all the jokes, action and reaction taking place in a conservative Governor's mansion - his ten-year-old son had invited him, and now the polar opposites... the X-rated host and the G-rated politician... meet and crash...

Wally runs his show from the mansion after a big party (taking up most of the picture) and the uptight Governor is played by Frank Burns MASH replacement David Ogden Stiers, who isn't evil or timid enough... like Ted Knight in CADDYSHACK... for his comfortable world crashing around him to mean anything while the title star tosses stale one-liners into an endless vacuum: Jokes you've heard a hundred times or more. Throw in a parenthetical love story between the Gov's daughter and Wally's son, the latter played by an actor more befitting a "Fourth Guy in Bar" billing in a made-for-cable movie, SPARKS simply has no chance to work...

Year: 1996 WallySparksCampValue: **
And this trend continued as the actors/actresses surrounding Rodney get more and more uninteresting. The only thing EASY MONEY buddy Joe Pesci did wrong was constantly laughing at Rodney's one-liners, which takes it away from the audience....

For an example of the perfect single character "audience," rewatch BACK TO SCHOOL: the cop listens to a string of jokes about the girl's gym locker room, and has a confused, quiet expression, allowing the king of one-liners to reign without interruption. Not like it matters in these final five roles. Rodney having lost his comedic touch is a tragedy, but, somehow, a relaxing one. And SPARKS was the last of his movies ever to be shown in theaters: the next three were straight-to-video/DVD, and boy how it shows. 

Released on Video Year: 2002
So now Dangerfield Cinema was created for home use only  if he were alive today, maybe he'd get an Adam Sandler type Netflix deal. But during the early 00's, there was no sugar coating the fact that theaters had abandoned you...

And it would be impossible to imagine something like MY 5 WIVES  on a marquee. Centering on a monopolizing business tycoon ala Donald Trump, who wants to buy a ski resort in Utah and, to become part of the Mormon-Only, no Drinking or Smoking town, he's being watched by two jerky bankers and, like EASY MONEY, if he drinks or smokes, the deal is finished...
5WivesCamp: **1/2
The attempted comedy is pure male fantasy as he marries five wives... first three and then two... The hottest being full-lipped Anita Brown, who wound up with the biggest career, playing a crew member in the third STAR TREK reboot feature...

Anita Brown My 5 Wives bookended by babes
The people surrounding Rodney, besides the pretty girl eye candy, are just plain terrible. His sidekick buddy looks like an actor from an infomercial with way too much screen time, providing most of the exposition, while comedian John Byner, originally cast as Mork on HAPPY DAYS till Garry Marshall met Robin Williams, is the villain  but not the primary. That goes to one of Rodney's many other discoveries, Andrew Dice Clay. His role as a conceited mobster is a by-the-numbers parody of his own image (the same as in MAKING THE GRADE over a decade earlier), proving that no one could pull off what Sam Kinison did in BACK TO SCHOOL, and these guys were once stand-up rivals. As the Rodney flicks continued, the comics he throws bones to are more familiar than famous...


Anita Brown takes the prize
MY 5 WIVES, also directed by Sidney J. Furie, isn't a terrible movie if you've ever dreamt of gorgeous young girls who will do anything and everything, at any time and place. It's really more an exploitation than comedy. One of the few bulwarks is Molly Shannon as a female Tony Robbins combined with Gloria Steinem, whose seminar gives the five wives independence. Nothing comes of this, or anything else, really. There are plenty of dead-end plot-points that can't be saved by Rodney's stale jokes... And the end, as Rodney's supposedly skiing during a climactic chase scene, he does a backflip trick liken to the BACK TO SCHOOL Triple-Lindy...

Bad Eyes for 4th TENOR
Meanwhile, his overall humor is hit and miss but mostly miss, although he seems, somehow, more awake and alert than the last two theatrical outings. Perhaps he was contentedly reigning in hell since Heaven/Hollywood had rejected his services. For a comedian over seventy, maybe, just maybe, Hell ain't a bad place to be.

And now we shift to the fourth and fifth entries, ironically going from FIVE WIVES to THE 4TH TENOR with an immense change of plot and location and overall vibe, good or bad, seeming more an independent labor-of-love than a cheap comedy that couldn't afford to look like his older vehicles  hell, even LADYBUGS seemed big budget comparably... And the comedic star really seems to be enjoying himself  he hasn't been this energetic for a while. But what does show in his advanced age are the signature bulging eyes having pooped out. Maybe caused by the Las Vegas sauna accident that merited a lawsuit, he can hardly open those loony peepers at all...

TenorCampValue: ***
Beginning in New York where Dangerfield's character is an Italian restaurant owner where he does his own standup comedy routines, he's comfortable in a role not entirely fiction. He was the owner of a nightclub for comics that was a success in New York City even before his success in movies, but herein he's a loser smitten with a trophy wife that will dump him unless he learns to sing... opera.

It's as if Francis Coppola directed The 4th Tenor
Most of the film takes place in Italy, supposedly, where the cinematography has an antique, vintage look like Renaissance paintings. Rodney fits like a paper sack in a rose garden, on purpose, but things begin to mesh when he meets a woman who's right for him despite still being in love with the cheating tramp back home she's having an affair with ruffian Robert Davi. But when there's not trouble there's love, or the attempt. Probably the most realistic romance of any Dangerfield film. He's not cast with a pretty or cute lady to equal his character's money or the fact that he's an endearing and popular comic (Sally Kellerman is the best example). Anita De Simone can both sing and act, and lifts this strange fable higher than it has the right to be since it's really out there. Who knows, perhaps Rodney's personal Rosebud was being a singer instead of a comic... As dull as 4TH TENOR can be, it sure beats Sly Stallone's RHINESTONE... but that's another story.

Camp Value Midnight Score: **
Yikes... talk about repeating the same old joke. That being, "Life is a tail of woe but, here, in prison, you get more woe than tail," making BACK BY MIDNIGHT a prison-break satire where the King of Comics Dangerfield, instead of using young standups in cameos, here they're all locked up together, and for the most part, are visibly up front... Plus they're all (especially Harland Williams) pretty damn annoying...

Rodney plays a very open-minded, friend-of-the-people warden who plans a heist of exercise equipment since the owner won't allow it. The movie cuts around a handful of dull characters outside the prison walls, and whatever the caper was supposed to be is all but forgotten, very soon, as more energy's put into cop-on-the-beat Williams and his equally unfunny lawman boss, Randy Quaid... 

Jonathan Brandis and Vinessa Shaw in Ladybugs
And beware of THE GODSON, a mafia satire where Rodney's but a glorified cameo as, albeit fitfully, the Godfather of Comedy...

Sadly enough, he's that here too... A cameo, that is... And more than all the five latter-Dangerfield flicks, BACK BY MIDNIGHT will make you want to watch the classic 1980's trilogy... 

And perhaps intentionally... A full circle connecting onto itself and, either way, the comic legend would die a year later, and is known for the three great movies instead of the five he made during what was really, in retrospect, a twelve-year semi-retirement.
This Ladybugs scene looks like Caddyshack 2, which he had backed out of
Rodney gives cool uncle advice to Vinessa Shaw who knows she's the worst on the team... a character-arc rests on her

Vinessa Shaw has a kick in her first role where she had a romance with the late Jonathan Brandis who hung himself at 27 years-old
Cult character actress Nancy "C---K Puller in Porky's" Parsons plays a rival coach straight out of (Motel) Hell
This is the menu of the DVD and is better than the entire movie
Shirley you just as the plump former cutie dances with Rodney who's sporting a cement erection in the pants
Debbie Mazar & Rodney listen to Tony Danza as Tony (Banta?) as a New York cabbie
While Geraldo & Jerry Springer did a "favor" to play themselves, failed talkshow host Gabriel Cateras needed it
Since Howard Stern is thoroughly mentioned, and semi-inspired Wally's character, here's Stern's own Stuttering John
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