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Flicks
(1987)
 

Director: Peter Winograd            
Cast:
Pamela Sue Martin, Joan Hackett, Martin Mull


Though the genre may long been milked to death, I enjoy sketch/parody movies. Even though they may be filled with dated content, movies like Kentucky Fried Movie, Prime Time, The Groove Tube, and Amazon Women On The Moon make me laugh, even when watching them for the umpteenth time. True, it may be hard to differentiate one from from the other, but as long as they are funny, why complain?

Still, I've always thought it would be interesting to see a movie in this genre doing the format in a different manner, something more original. Not only would such a movie manage to stand out from all the others in the pack, it could potentially find news ways to deliver humor to the audience. So when I heard about Flicks, I was very excited, for it promised to do the sketch/parody genre in a new and original way - satirizing the matinee features of the 30s and 40s. Well, maybe not completely new and original - in 1978, there was Movie Movie, which spoofed the double features of the same periods. So it's not completely original, but I didn't care - I thought Movie Movie was both a lot of fun and dead on with its parodies, so I was looking forward to reliving the same experience with Flicks.

Many of the first parts of Flicks left me uneasy. They seemed very cheaply and quickly done, as if thought up and constructed during a lunch hour. We see a trailer for a movie called No Way Jose, constructed from stock footage and clips from spectacular scenes taken for other movies, while the names of various big stars appear and the announcer tells us it's Scene from the hilarious "Cat and Mouse" "...the movie that was too expensive to make!" Then there is the newsreel, which shows us black and white footage from real newsreels, but with new narration. For example, when we see footage of crowds of people on the streets and in movie theaters playing with paddleballs, the announcer tells us of the new fad that is sweeping the nation: "People whacking their balls in public!" These kind of cheap skits reminded me of the skits I used to see on a TV comedy show from Seattle - the difference being that those guys and gals from Seattle overcame their cheapness and actually managed to milk some laughs out of these overused gags.

Not everything about the beginning was lame - in fact, there was one sketch that was excellent. It's "Cat & Mouse", several minutes of animation that parodies the old Tom & Jerry cartoons. In this cartoon, the two antagonists, now elderly, are residents in a nursing home and pass the time playing gin and drinking booze. "Cat" mutters how life is better now since in the old days they had no union and they had to do their own stunts, while "Mouse" disagrees by arguing that they got to run all over, and "...nowadays [cartoon characters] just stand still and move their lips!" They then decide to go after each other one more time for old time's sake. Not only is this cartoon hilarious, it's obviously done by people who are great fans of those old cartoons. The music, backgrounds, and even the voices perfectly capture what you see and hear in those cartoons. While the draftsmanship of the characters is a little crude and lacking the major studio polish, you can see that there was effort to design the characters in the manner of the period - just check out the bulldog character (in the cartoon's funniest scene), who's in the style of the bulldogs found in the MGM and Warner Brothers cartoons.

After that cartoon, I was really warmed up, and eager to see what other laughs the movie would bring. Sadly, the movie immediately, painfully, and cruelly collapses as soon as the cartoon ends and the next begins. What comes next, Lost Heroes Of The Milky Way, Tang plots to destroy the creators of this movie. We wish him luck. is allegedly a parody of those Republic serials. I say "allegedly", because for one thing, even though we're told that we're seeing chapter nineteen, it starts off like it's chapter one. Also, this chapter ends so abruptly, without any crisis, that it'll provoke viewers to blurt out, "What the hell?!?" Then later in the movie, when we're shown another "chapter", we see footage from the previous chapter reused. I know that the old serials did that, but it's very suspicious here for a few reasons. When you compare some scenes here with scenes in this previous chapter, it appears that separate scenes in each chapter were originally together. Plus, some of the new characters introduced in this new chapter are seen so quickly, or come out of the blue with no explanation at all. The editing reaches its nadir when the chapter climaxes with a mass brawl that makes no sense at all.

There's only one explanation that I can think of for all this confusion: This sketch was originally conceived and directed as one big sketch, but in the editing room it was crudely transformed into multiple chapters. But that's not the worst thing about Lost Heroes - the worst thing about it is that IT'S NOT FUNNY. The fact that the spaceship containing the heroes is called "The Starship President Nixon" should give you an idea of the humor here - though to be honest, that's not the worst gag here. While Joan Hackett (in her last role, as the ship's captain) wanders around the cardboard sets in a daze, we're given a Ming the Merciless-type villain named "Tang", and a crew member named "Stoner" who snorts the power crystals of the ship and mentions that on the planet Brillo he had a pad. (Sound of crickets chirping.)

Between the two chapters of the serial, we're treated (oh, joy) to another sketch, supposedly a parody of horror films called House Of The Living Corpse. It starts with young couple Arthur and Beth Martin Mull shows he has more wit in the tip of his finger than this entire movie (Martin Mull & Betty Kennedy) looking for a new house, which of course brings up the tired old gags concerning sleazy real estate agents and the crappy houses they show naive clients. After the couple buys the place, we're subsequently shown the expected clichéd scenes of the mysterious neighbor who knows about the house's troubled past, a shadowy figure peeking at Beth through holes in the wall, and an exterminator accidentally stumbling across the mysterious tenant in the basement - none of which is funny. The movie somehow thinks seeing the clichés themselves are funny. No Way, Jose. The acting in this sketch is particularly awful, with Mull trying desperately to disappear with a really low key delivery when he isn't forced to do things like bouncing on a bed. And like the serial, this sketch ends with a "What the hell?!?" note.

That mistake of presenting the material more or less straight is what makes the last sketch fall flat as well. Philip Alien, Space Detective tries to be a parody of those hard-boiled detective films Humphrey Bogart used to star in, substituting a four-armed caterpillar alien in a trenchcoat for Bogart. On another planet, Philip Alien gets An alien doing Humphrey Bogart. Hilarious, huh? handed the case of a missing person (uh... caterpillar), so he hops onto his spaceship and flies to earth to find him (uh... it). With the exception of the hero and a few sci-fi twists, the movie's plot and tone is indistinguishable from one of those Bogart films. Think about any of those Bogart movies you've seen, and substitute Bogart with an alien doing the same things - are you laughing? Of course not. Yet that's pretty much how this sketch plays out, though the cast switch does make one scene grotesque, where the alien caterpillar starts making out on a couch with a human woman.

I will admit there are a few one-liners in that sketch that did cause me to (slightly) smile, but otherwise I was astounded at how everybody involved in the making of it wasted so much time and effort on something so lame. In fact, aside from the hilarious "Cat & Mouse" cartoon, that's I feel about the entire movie. It's hard to believe one of the screenwriters of The Groove Tube worked on this movie, though it's easy to believe the reports that this movie was long shelved before being dumped directly to video. How did the seven producers think this was funny? How did the four screenwriters manage to come up with one hilarious bit in their awful screenplay? These and other bewildering questions make you think "What the hell?!?" about what you've just seen immediately after the movie ends.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: Outtakes, Prime Time, When Nature Calls

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