National Lampoon Goes To The
(a.k.a. National Lampoon's Movie Madness)
Director: Henry Jaglom, Bob Giraldi
Cast: Peter Reigert, Dianne Lane, Candy Clark
Special guest review!
By Mike Sullivan
Better known as the two words preceding Animal House
and Vacation, it's hard to believe that at one time the
National Lampoon was a wildly popular humor magazine. The Lampoon not
only served as the inspiration behind Saturday
Night Live but also posed a serious threat to Mad magazine.
Unfortunately, the sharp and scathing Lampoon suffered through years of
mismanagement (most notably Tim Matheson and Dan Grodnik's ill-advised
takeover of the mag in the late '80s) which eventually led to its
destruction in 1992.
It also didn't help that the National Lampoon name was attached
to numerous worthless and downright awful projects such as the
comedy album Sex, Drugs, Rock 'n' Roll and the End of the
World, the comedy special Disco Beaver from Outer Space
and a shelved United Artists film called National Lampoon Goes
to the Movies.
Divided into three segments (originally four; the somewhat
prophetically titled "The Bomb" segment was cut at the last minute. In
fact, it was so last minute that images from the unused portion popped up in some of the
promotional materials) National Lampoon Goes to the Movies
intends to rip apart personal growth movies, Harold Robbins potboilers
and buddy cop films. So right off the bat you know you're in trouble. The first two genres
are obscure targets for parody while the latter was done to death even
in the late '70s. It's a poorly conceived anthology that falls flat on
its face early on and stays there.
After an admittedly attractive credits sequence drawn by NatLamp's Rick
Meyerowitz (which also ineptly reveals the original title) we're
introduced to the first segment, "Growing Yourself." Peter Riegert
stars as Jason an arrogant corporate lawyer who forces his wife to
leave him so that he can "grow himself" by raising his four kids alone.
Jason quits his job as a corporate lawyer and opens a plant orphanage
where he encounters, are you ready for this, plant batterers! HarHarHar.
Jason's not alone in his dream of growing himself. Almost everyone he
encounters falls prey to this misguided attempt at self improvement
including a realtor turned firefighter and his own boss who throws it
all away to
become a beaver hunter in Alaska. Jason's idealized view of
independence quickly crumbles as he starts to repeatedly misplace his
kids, (which doesn't seem to bother him) experience romantic pitfalls
(one of which is Diane Lane as Jason's teenaged mistress) and watch
from the sidelines as his wife becomes
more successful on her on then she ever was with him.
"Growing Yourself" strives for straight faced absurdism, but more often
than not comes off as forced and horribly boring. It's also pointless
because the satirical target is never clear. Just what the hell is
here, Kramer Vs. Kramer? Romantic Comedies? Woody Allen
flicks? Isn't there a rule somewhere that movie parodies have to be, you know, parodies? This is a
joyless, aimless wreck that never stops winking at the audience or
patting itself on the back after every lame gag.
The second portion, "Success Wanters", is a slight improvement over
"Growing Yourself." Many of the gags are nearly successful, but
ultimately fail. It's psuedo humor. Comedy that appears to be funny,
but on closer inspection isn't.
Ann Dusenberry stars as Dominique Corsair, an erotic dancer who exacts
revenge on a group of Dairy Company presidents after they brutally rape
her with a stick of butter (Y'know what makes a wacky comedy even
wackier? A brutal rape!) In the course of four days, Dominique manages
to become the CEO of a margarine company, puts the dairy companies out
marries an Onassis-esque tycoon, cures cancer and becomes the
President's first lady after the current one cheerfully steps aside.
Make no mistake about it, "Success Wanters" is a steaming pile of s**t.
To be fair it doesn't stink as bad as the manure that surrounds it.
This is the only segment that had a slim chance of succeeding. It's
bizarre imagery (like an execution on a golf course) and even contains
the film's only funny line, "Only I Noxos can make love to my son."
Ultimately, the film's clever bits are buried by a leaden pace
and Dusenberry's lifeless performance. She's neither believable as
an irresistible manipulator or as a human being. "Success Wanters" is
additionally marred by an obscure springboard for parody. Sure, the
premise isn't as unclear as "Growing Yourself", but basing a spoof
around The Greek Tycoon and The Betsy?
Isn't that like basing an episode of Saturday Night Live around
Norwegian politics and the short lived TV series Holmes and Yoyo?
Even if this was well written (and believe me, "Success Wanters"
isn't), the gags are so cryptic that maybe two of the seven people that
saw this got the joke.
Last and certainly least is "Municipalians" a tragically unfunny
attempt at the Hellzapoppin' style of Airplane.
In "Municipalians", a serial killer (Christopher Lloyd) is on the loose
and the only evidence he leaves behind are copies of his drivers
license. Thankfully, a duo of horribly clichéd cops (Robbie Benson and
Richard Widmark) are on the case. Even at 30 minutes this is a
paper-thin premise. So the running time is padded out with scenes of
people shooting Benson at point blank range (Well, at least you can't
movie doesn't give the people what they want), excruciating bits
involving Barry Diamond as a "funny" junkie (Diamond would go on to
repulse audiences in National Lampoon's Class Reunion
as, what else, a junkie), and failed attempts at dark comedy and social
As bad as the previous segments are, nothing can prepare you for
"Municipalians." Not a moment goes by in which it this section doesn't
make you feel like someone is shoving a dead possum in your face, and
this is mostly director Henry Jaglom's fault. Jaglom never worked with
a major studio before (or again.) His only experience was directing
ponderous art house fare like A Safe Place. Jaglom's
whiny, navel gazing, autobiographical style doesn't lend itself to the
silly excesses of a low brow comedy. Jaglom has no comic timing and
keeps the film moving at a snail's pace. He also ruins a number of
decent ideas by staging them poorly. Particularly a chase sequence that
could've been a clever show-stopping moment but instead comes off as
uninvolving and static.
"Municipalians" also boasts the film's worst performances. Benson
deserves credit for mocking his wholesome image but he overdoes it and
it isn't long before his wide eyed naïf routine becomes irritating.
looks perpetually bored and he performs his dialogue as if he's being
poked with a cattle prod. Christopher Lloyd, on the other hand, gives a
surprisingly good performance as the serial killer. It's
understated, creepy and oddly sympathetic. It almost seems like Lloyd
stumbled in from another better movie.
It would be unfair to blame all of the film's problems on Jaglom. True,
Jaglom was a notorious asshole who was despised by his cast and crew
and yes, he was the same man behind the deleted disaster movie parody
"The Bomb" (which, for the record, originally starred Kenneth Mars,
Allen Garfield and Marcia Strassman) but this overlooks the fact that
Giraldi was just as incompetent as he was. "Growing Yourself" and
"Success Wanters" are both poorly paced laugh-free debacles and much
like Jaglom, Giraldi has no clue how to shoot a comedy.
Let's not forget the horrible script that seems like it never moved
past a rough first draft and contains unfunny non-sequiters like, "I
hear Boulder Colorado will be the next video tape capital of
America." What's even harder to believe is that Trots &
Bonnie creator Shary Flenniken and Tod Caroll were contributing
writers on this abomination. Although blessed with non-stop cameos from
plenty of embarrassed stars (including Elisha Cook Jr., Fred Willard,
Joe Spinnell, Mary Woronov and Rhea Perlman as a hooker with glowing
nipples) this is a dull headache-inducing disaster that is more
interesting to read about than actually watch.
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See also: Cracking Up, Hey! There's Naked Bodies On My TV!, Prime Time