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Funland
(1986)
 

Director: Michael A. Simpson                    
Cast:
David Lander, William Windom, Bruce Mahler


Special guest review!

By Michael Sullivan
 

One of my greatest joys in watching Unknown Movies is watching somewhat well known celebrities in truly bizarre roles. Take, for example, Gary Burghoff as the extremely creepy murderer in Small Kill, Judd Nelson as the talentless comedian with three arms in The Dark Backward, Richard Kiel as the star of The Humanoid (not really a strange role for Kiel, but strange in the fact that a movie "stars" Richard Kiel) and David Lander as a psychotic clown in Funland.

In many of these actors' cases (except for Kiel) they were willing to take a chance (or were really desperate) playing disturbing and truly unlikable characters, and you can tell they got a real kick out of playing sad, pathetic pissants, and God bless 'em, because they're usually the sole reason for watching the movie.

Which brings me to Funland. Without Lander, the movie would be mostly unwatchable. It's the kind of movie where half the scenes could be eliminated and it wouldn't hurt the film at all. Anyway, our biting satire of theme parks (Well, a biting satire if you consider Cracked magazine to be a masterstroke in social commentary) begins on a somewhat funny note with Bruce Burger, a Ronald McDonald parody (David Lander) filming a commercial alongside a Jerry's Kid-type poster child. After the commercial is filmed, Bruce innocently asks, "This kid isn't contagious or anything, is he?"

After this, we are introduced to our usual menagerie of '80s teen film stereotypes (The Cool Guy, The Fat Guy, The Nerd, The Mean Authoritarian Guy, etc.) who are all applying for summer jobs. But before you figure these are the characters we'll watch trying to get laid or drop a box of bras on top of Authoritarian Guy's head in front of uptight old people, the focus shifts back on Bruce (who we find out is constantly in his clown costume), barging into executive Mike Spencer's office,  demanding to have the name on his checks changed to "Bruce Burger" (plot point!) This creeps Mike out, so he talks with park owner Angus Perry (William Windom). Angus reveals that Bruce was originally an accountant named Neal Stickney who snapped, and is only being kept on as an employee because Neal and Angus were once friends.

Time to shift focus on our idiot teens again, who are being bored by a speech ("And that employee had a wooden foot.")  But things pick up when Angus gives a "prophetic speech" about investors hounding him to sell the park and the only way he'll sell the park is over his dead body. Guess what happens?

Next day at the funeral, it is revealed that Angus' wife has sold the park to the DeMorrow family, a cartoonishly stereotyped mob family, and - how's this for originality - the head of the family is a parody of Marlon Brando in The Godfather! Wow! Finally somebody had the balls to thumb their nose at The Godfather something comedians, films, and TV. never had the guts to do. Hopefully someone will follow this films lead and we'll see the shower scene in Psycho mocked, or better yet a feature length satire of the Blair Witch Project! (Sigh...) Mario introduces his sons - Carlo, a sleazy business man, and Larry, a thug-like enforcer. They all decide to cut back expenses and hire the National Bruce Burger, which means our Bruce gets fired.

Run! It's a nonsensical shift to our Cool Teen Guy, who's trying to pick up Love Interest Girl. Cool Guy tricks her into going out with him in a ploy that could only work in the movies or the borderline retarded. Thankfully, the scene ends, but Mike has to break the bad news to Bruce. Bruce doesn't take the news too well, and soon Bruce angrily argues with his puppet Peter Pepperoni. This climaxes when Bruce throws down the puppet and yells, "You can't puke, you're a puppet!"

The national Bruce Burger finally shows up, and he turns out to be a pretentious has-been actor who hates children, and throws Bruce out of his dressing room after Bruce threatens to shove a pole up his ass. With nowhere left to go, Bruce is forced to live in the abandoned wax museum (as seen on Scooby Doo), where he talks to a wax sculpture of Humphrey Bogart and his puppet pal Peter.

Meanwhile, in movie "B", Cool Guy tries to pick up Love Interest Girl, but Mean Authoritarian Guy (BTW, his name is Chip Cox - where would a Porky's rip-off be without a cock joke?) won't let her (awww). So Cool Guy decides to retaliate. Cool Guy does this by taking a picture of a couple Mean Authoritarian Guy happens to be with, and they are all, of course, in front of a log flume ride. Cool Guy asks the husband to put his arm around his wife - this (in a very unnatural and really fake way) knocks Mean Authoritarian Guy into the water behind him, and with that we bid a fond farewell to our idiot teens for pretty much the rest of the movie. These one-dimensional characters and their stale antics will be sorely missed.

But with open arms, we greet the next scene, which features the DeMorrows discussing ways to promote the park. One of the ideas is to replace the wax museum with a twisted Disneyesque ride called "Celebrity Death and Disease" -  a weird-ass ride that has robots re-enacting Natalie Wood drowning and Elvis dying on the toilet, all in a replica of the Betty Ford Center.

At this point, the film gets slightly weirder with Bruce hallucinating that the entire cafeteria is "getting down" to a wretched song, while a woman in pseudo-S&M gear wanders amongst them. Then Angus's good-natured corpse reveals that the DeMorrows killed him to get Funland. (Excuse me..... DUUUUHHHH!!!! ...Thank you.)

So basically, the remainder of the film has the DeMorrows trying to find Neal to buy out his partnership in Funland, and Bruce's attempts to sabotage Funland's opening day by attempting to assassinate the National Bruce Burger.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but for years I searched for this film everywhere. I read capsule reviews of it in reference books, and it sounded really cool. A mafia family takes over a theme park, and an insane clown wants to stop them? How could this miss? Well, it can miss when the writers (professional hacks Terry and Bonnie Turner) can't decide whether to make it a Porky's rip-off, or a character piece about Bruce's progressive insanity. Also throw in heavy amounts of bland executives arguing, lame pokes at The Godfather and plenty of missed opportunities, and you got yourself a tape that will proudly collect dust in between Rockula and the Hudson Brothers' movie Hysterical! on the shelves at your local video store. But what do you expect from two ex-SNL writers who created the ultra irritating Coneheads?

Despite these setbacks, it does have its  fair share of moments. Thanks to David Lander, who really throws himself into his role. Whether he's violently shaking a kid in a wheelchair or showing up at a funeral in a black clown wig and a giant painted tear under his eye to give a wildly inappropriate eulogy, he proves to be a great overlooked comedic actor and it's unfortunate he's stuck in mostly direct-to-video kids' films nowadays.

As for the rest of the cast, they're either wasted, like Jan Hooks as a slutty secretary or Bruce Mahler as a very dull executive, or annoying like the generic '80s teens. Who, if there's a God in heaven, are all using their true talents to good use - that is, cleaning the toilets at Burger King.

So to those who still might get the urge to search this out I say go ahead. Just remember - you've been officially warned.

(Editor's note: Speaking of those having the urge to seek this out, they may be surprised to find out it may be shelved in the action or horror section at their video stores, which is where I've seen it placed in two video stores in my city. No doubt it's because of the wildly inappropriate video box art - it shows a homicidal-looking clown in a black jacket holding a shotgun, with the caption, "Welcome to the abusement park.")

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See also: Big Man On Campus, Good Times, Hollywood High

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