Review: National Lampoon's Movie Madness
National Lampoon's Movie Madness is not funny. It's not unfunny in a way that certain comedies from the past can be, where the humor relies on situations and references that haven't translated to modern times. It's also not unfunny in the way that really smart comedy can sometimes be, where you see the cleverness of the observation, though it doesn't elicit a chuckle. No, it's just not funny.
Movie Madness consists of three different and unrelated segments, each running approximately 30 minutes. We have a parody (if such a word can be used) of "growth movies" (going away so I can find myself), a parody of soap opera melodramas, and a spoof of cop movies. To use the word parody or spoof would imply that there are jokes associated with these stories, but really, almost no jokes exist. The tales themselves feel like exercises in creative writing, or even collegiate projects. Given the Harvard origins of National Lampoon, this makes sense. However, what works in a ten-page printed article does not translate to a half-hour film segment, and all three stories feel far longer than they actually are. My favorite segment was the final cop satire, but even that one feels twice as long as it should be.
If the movie has anything to connect the disparate segments together, it's a series of adult-oriented drawings which likely come from the National Lampoon magazine itself. Things like a large-breasted gorilla with a bosom bursting out of a blouse, or Ronald Reagan with a banana going in one ear and out the other. Hope you like these naughty little cartoon images, because you're going to see them alot. The movie opens with them AND they appear again between each segment. Accompanying the images is a song by Dr. John, a wonderful talent who seems to have written and recorded this tune over the course of an afternoon. Hope you like that too, because you're going to hear it four times.
On the plus side of things, the film is cast to the nines with lots of actors who had been somebody, were somebody, or would soon be somebody. Candy Clark, Diane Lane, Robert Culp, Fred Willard, Mary Woronov, Dick Miller, Robby Benson, Richard Widmark, Christopher Lloyd, Julie Kavner (the voice of Marge Simpson) and Rhea Perlman all make an appearance. It's worth mentioning that this film was also made during the era where nudity on film was still quite a novelty, and this movie plays this card as much as possible.
Movie Madness was conceived under the title National Lampoon Goes to the Movies and was to feature ten segments which would parody movie genres. An entire fourth segment was filmed and cut from the feature before release. Even those involved with the project recognize its shortcomings, referring to the cocaine-fueled writing segments that resulted in a project with no structure, no purpose, and no experience in the things that are necessary to create a film. When it was turned over to the studio, the title was changed to Movie Madness and the director of the cop segment (the best segment), Henry Jaglo, was so disillusioned with his experience that he vowed never to work for a major studio again and stick to the indies. Also worth mentioning: this project was made in 1981 and unreleased for two years, when it went virtually straight to cable.
Comedy is subjective, and there may be folks who really love this movie, especially those who are deeply connected to the late 1970s and early 1980s comedy scene, but this is miles away from National Lampoon's feature debut Animal House. Even the unfunniest segments of Saturday Night Live from the much-maligned Dick Ebersol era run circles around the attempts at comedy here. This one is for National Lampoon completists and for fans of the actors who appear. I watched the film via a new Blu-ray from Code Red (distributed by Kino Lorber) and the transfer is very good. There are no extras included. We're living in an age of wonder when such forgotten features get such respectable treatment.