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Prime Time
(1978)
(a.k.a. American Raspberry
&
Funny America)

Director: Bradly R. Swirnoff


What movie inspired the loved movie genre of multiple skits satirizing movies, TV shows, and advertisements? If you said Kentucky Fried Movie, you are right - and wrong. KFM certainly popularized the genre unlike others before it, but the genre's origins come from the 1972 movie The Groove Tube. Whatever the origin, the genre has been popular enough to spawn a number of movies for over 20 years. A few have been good, (Kentucky Fried Movie, Amazon Women on the Moon), most have been mediocre (including Loose Shoes, The Sex O'Clock News, others), and a few have been utter bombs (including American Tickler and Outtakes). One really obscure movie of this kind is Prime Time, and because of the few successful movies in this genre one might think that this is another disappointment. I took a chance on it, and I was surprised to find that despite some really lame material and poor production values, the movie had enough laughs and hilariously tasteless moments to be worth watching. No Kentucky Fried Movie, but a good rental for some tasteless fun.

Unlike other movies in this genre (except for Tunnelvision), the sketches are wrapped around a plot. And like Tunnelvision, this wrap-around is completely unnecessary. (Incidentally, Prime Time was made by the same people) The premise is that across America - and in the rest of the world - regular television shows and programs have been substituted with crude and savage parodies. No one can figure out where the transmission is coming from. It is unknown who is behind it. The country is mostly in an uproar, and riots have broken out over this new programming. The president and his advisors meet to discuss this programming, and how they can possibly turn it off.

Mostly though, the movie is devoted to showing the skits. There are a number of clunkers; a program called "The Shitheads", a Candid-Camera-like show about dropping something nasty on people's heads in public; the long-life of "Die Tough" batteries is proven by attaching a 5 year old battery to an electric chair; a Sexual Deviation telethon; and "Trans Puerto Rican" airlines offering the taste of their country on their airplanes (and you can guess what it's like).

But these dumb moments are outweighed by the hilarity and outrageousness of other segments. A "Fire the handicapped" commercial manages to both jab at political correctness and be funny. The "Winkles" cereal commercial - featuring a very inappropriate prize for kids inside - is hilariously tasteless. Other funny moments include a news story about a Supreme Court decision allowing for abortion through the fetus' fifth year, a sperm bank run as a regular bank but with different "deposits", and an unlucky motorist finding the hard way why Bixby CB radios are considered "the trucker's friend".

That's Harry Shearer of The Simpsons as the unlucky "trucker's friend". There are a few interesting appearances in the movie, including Fred "Hunter" Dryer, comedian Kinky Friedman, TV regular David Spielberg, and - surprise! - Warren Oates as a participant in The Charles Whitman Invitational.

I'm recommending the movie, but as I stated earlier, there are several problems with the movie. First of all, the production values are rock-bottom, with some scenes taking place on a stage with little to no set dressing. Second is that the movie has been ineptly transferred to video. When a film is shot, there is usually some space above and below the picture that you never see - as long as the frame is positioned correctly on screen or video. Someone seriously goofed here, because in many shots you can actually see the spotlights on the ceiling.

Also, many of the commercial parodies are very out of date. I'm old enough to get and laugh at the hilarious parody of Rolaids' "How do you spell 'relief'?" commercials. But there are some segments I simply don't get. Is the commercial for "Stay Down" supposed to be parodying a deodorant commercial? And what the hell is the bizarre skit about the woman with breasts all over her body and saying, "Tits - you can't get too much of them!" supposed to be about? I'm also sure that younger viewers who weren't old enough to see original commercials that were satirized here - such as the takeoff of "Is it live or is it Memorex?" - will be scratching their heads more frequently that I was.

Looking at the credits, I made some interesting observations. One skit was provided courtesy of "National Lampoon" - what did N.L. use it for originally? The copyright at the beginning of the movie is made by Warner Brothers, but the movie is on a long-obsolete independent video label, and the end copyright notice is blacked-out before the credits ended. I recall from old "Variety" magazines that Cannon got the rights to the movie and kept announcing that they would release it in the late 70s/early 80s, but never did. At least, I don't think they did. Can anyone out there tell me if they remember this playing at a theater under one of its two names? Or was it originally made for cable? - Since National Lampoon made some cable productions in the early days of cable, using the clip may be a clue for that fate. Anyone with information about this movie is asked to please contact the author with what they know.

 


UPDATE: Several months after originally reviewing this movie, I received information about the movie from someone who participated in its production. At the person's request, their name will be withheld.

The movie was financed independently at a cost of $50,000, with a negative pickup deal with Warner Brothers. When it was previewed for the WB executive heads, they judged it unreleasable and decided not to exhibit it in any fashion. WB did allow the production team to sell it to Cannon Pictures, who then briefly exhibited it in the Detroit area. Subsequently, it was sold to a cheapo video label (Paragon Video) in the early days of video, along with other Cannon "classics" like New Year's Evil, Hot Bubble Gum, and The Godsend. (Someone else I talked with told me that Prime Time was also released on cable.)

The "Tits - you can't get too much of them!" sketch was a parody of some commercial from that era, but my informant couldn't remember what the original commercial was about.

The National Lampoon segment seems to have been an adaptation of some article in the magazine itself, and the sketch was not actually made by National Lampoon itself.

Director Bradly R. Swirnoff is still around, but is pretty much out of the business.

(My deepest thanks to my informant, for telling me the preceding information.)


UPDATE 2: William Norton revealed to me that Prime Time wasn't just confined to the Detroit area:

"Prime Time actually had a ad in the newspaper here in Seattle in 1980, and played as a one time preview showing!  But one showing is all this film got. Cannon was a New York based company and had trouble releasing films in the West. Similar to West coast companies having trouble in New York theatres."


UPDATE 3: Chris O'Neill had this information on the movie:

"I live in Ireland, and I thought you may be interested in a bit of info about Prime Time. In 1981 Prime Time was released on video in the UK as American Raspberry by Rank Video. On the back of the cassette the film was copyrighted to Cannon, so I guess they sold it to some territories (the other Cannon "classics" mentioned on your site were released at the same time)."


UPDATE 4: Mike Healy identified more of the actors:

"I wanted to point out that during the "Charles Whitman Invitational" sketch, alongside Warren Oates is the late Robert Ridgely, who was The Colonel in Boogie Nights, but is forever famous as the hangman in Blazing Saddles. It took me a couple of viewings to finally recognize him (the credits are in ABC order, not in appearance order, which would have have been better!).

"Also, the telethon's host is Murphy Dunne, who is seen in The Blues Brothers, or as the leader of Murph & The Magic-Tones. There's also a Nancy Parsons in Prime Time, and that was the name of the actress who was Miss Balbricker in the Porky's trilogy, and the one who's in Prime Time is giving Murphy a spanking, but that doesn't look like her at all, unless she got real big and repulsive by the time he did Porky's. Who knows?"


UPDATE 5: Jason D. sent this along:

"I saw this film under the title American Raspberry at an independent movie theater in Hollywood, Florida in the early 1980s.

"I was a pre-teen and it may have been my birthday (February).  My grandmother took me to the movies and I got to pick the film.  I must have made my choice based on the movie poster.  We didn't go there planning to see any particular movie.

"The movie is very memorable because I was between ages 9 and 12 and it was one of the first times I saw nudity in a film.  During the movie, I recall my grandmother making nervous statements that we need to get up and leave, but I insisted (and succeeded) on staying until the end.  I'm sure that I didn't understand most of the humor, but I was thrilled because I knew that it was naughty and 'adult.'

"At no time in my adult life has this memory of seeing American Raspberry ever faded.  Before I read your review this weekend, I was confused when I would occasionally find references to the movie as Prime Time.

"As a teenager, I had opportunities to see the Groove Tube and Kentucky Fried Movie, which I liked.  I absolutely loved Amazon Women on the Moon when it first came out on video.  I was always aware, however, that I saw American Raspberry when I was younger, and that this type of film is a special genre.

"As far as the statements in your review about the film playing in limited release in Detroit and Seattle: I can assure you that the film played for at least one day, if not for a whole week, in Hollywood, Florida.

"I am fairly certain that we saw American Raspberry in the Cine Twin theater on US-441 in Hollywood, FL.  Nowadays the theater is the 'Pussycat Cine Twin' and is (from outside appearances) a poorly maintained neighborhood adult theater in a decaying strip mall plaza, but back in the 1980s it showed 'regular' films.  I now realize that they were all exploitation films (for example, I remember seeing Cirio Santiago's Firecracker at the Cine Twin with my Mom, and also one or two of the Friday the 13th movies).

"I have lived in Baltimore now for 10 years, but a few years ago I visited my parents in Hollywood, and we (my grandparents and Mom) went to a Chinese restaurant in the strip mall containing the Cine Twin.  As the 'Pussycat,' it still appeared to be open for business."


UPDATE 6: "Cary" sent this in:

"Just wanted to let you know a friend of mine and me saw Prime Time which was what is it was called in 1977. It was at the Cascade Twin Drive-in Theater in Grand Rapids Michigan (closed 1992). One of the best memories I have of growing up in the Seventies was going to drive-ins. My friend and I were 18 with some beer and went to see a double feature. Primetime was the opening feature. I can’t remember now what the main feature was but both of us really liked Prime Time better than the main feature. We laughed so hard I remember. A much simpler time."

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See also: Outtakes, Flicks, Movers And Shakers

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