Written by / 1/31/2018 / No comments / , , , , ,

SMUG DOUGLAS KENNEY BIOPIC 'A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE'

The real Doug Kenney as Stork in the Animal House climax YEAR: 2018
Making a biopic about a famous comic actor is difficult, visually, since their image is well known; and for a comic writer, audibly: Herein, none of the one-liners or concepts in the early days of Douglas Kenney's Harvard Lampoon turned into the groundbreaking magazine National Lampoon probably won't evoke much laughter, especially since the references are inside and very dated...

Yet are delivered in string of modern day style "Can you believe what I just said and you just heard?" sarcasm about Nixon, and Nixon, and even Nixon. Meanwhile, Will Forte, as Kenney, isn't one bit likable or interesting, which almost seems deliberate and, worst yet, the actors playing John Belushi to Bill Murray to Harold Ramis look nothing like the real articles (although Ivan Reitman is a dead ringer, but it hardly matters). And yet, somehow, A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE, based on a line from National Lampoon's ANIMAL HOUSE, co-written by Kenney (and spoken by Tim Matheson's Eric "Otter" Stratton), is somewhat involving if you can get past the blitz of pop culture eye-candy and try to make something out of the ultimately simple true life story...

Fake "Mary-Louise Weller"
Of a comedic pioneer who basically, during the magazine's run, through the Lemmings & Lampoon radio show, invented SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE without getting any credit...

The bad counter-culture costumes including phony mustaches and wigs are sometimes overridden by particular facts that do spark insight: like how wannabe R. Crumb style cartoons were replaced by serious nostalgic artwork for the magazine, made funnier through radical concepts providing generational irony...

Then the SNL "Not Ready For Prime Time Players," including Belushi, Bill Murray and Joel McHale's lazy imitation of his once COMMUNITY co-star Chevy Chase, merely come and go, never establishing themselves as being an integral part of Kenney's career, as opposed to his original partner, Henry Beard, who's just too "perfect" to seem realistic, acting more like the Ghost of Christmas Present than a once reliable comic soulmate who helped get the Lampoon ball rolling, during and after their beginnings at Harvard University...

The Real Martha "Babs" Smith
Other things learned about Kenney, who... during a second-act anti anti-drug melodrama... turns into a depressed addict using loads and loads of cocaine, is he basically peaked with ANIMAL HOUSE and then felt robbed by both the Gopher and Rodney Dangerfield's scene-stealing one-liners in CADDYSHACK (a cult comedy even more loved than ANIMAL HOUSE at this point). And all the pros and mostly cons of the writer's semi-famous life is narrated by Martin Mull as a 60-year-old Kenney ala who he'd have been had he lived. There are other clever timeline devices that mostly rationalize flaws, making even the bad parts come across as intentional. Howard Stern's popular yet underrated PRIVATE PARTS should get some credit for both explaining and denouncing its own parenthetical charm, humor, and pathos, yet without all the heavy-handed smugness found in GESTURE...

Grade: C+
Despite the deeper moments being few and far between, this GESTURE is just that: quick, subtle movements that often derail what and who sparked the decade-long comedy Renaissance still felt today. Maybe that was the point, and if so, the Netflix original almost works in showing how and why a forgotten comic pioneer was forgotten in the first place. Kenney (at least the way the glib and completely self-aware, vainly political Forte portrays him) seemed to prefer obscurity.  Maybe, just maybe, he slipped and fell (intentionally?) over that Hawaiian cliff so he didn't have to ultimately explain himself... to anybody. Which explains why Mull's "Ghost Doug" thoroughly detests the biopic as it plays out around (and about) him.
Harold Ramis quipped that Doug fell while looking for a place to jump, but this biopic screams it was suicide
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