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Off The Mark
(a.k.a. Crazy Legs)
(1987)

Director: Bill Berry
Cast:
Mark Neely, Terry Farrell, Clarence Gilyard Jr.


Whether you are a truly dyed-in-the-wool movie buff as I am, or are just a person who watches movies occasionally, it can be interesting to look at a basic film genre and find what variety can be found in that single genre alone. Take the action genre, for example. In that genre, you can find westerns, martial art movies, and tough cop films among many other kinds of action films. But the genre I really want to go into depth with this review is comedy. If you look at the comedy genre, you will not only see many different kinds of comedies, but that almost all of these comedic genres have proven to be popular both with audiences and filmmakers. One of the oldest is the screwball comedy, comedies that usually involve eccentric female leads, slapstick, romantic threads, and fast-based banter. Such examples include It Happened One Night and Bringing Up Baby. Then there are comedies that could be classified as "dumb" comedies. As you've probably guessed, these movies involve protagonists that are significantly missing sufficient brain power. This particular comedy has also been around for ages, with such examples ranging from Abbott and Costello to Jim Carrey. Then there are comedies that could be considered more realistic in nature. They often involve families or people that the audience can relate to, and the situations that these people get involved with can be easily identified with to the audience. Examples of this can be found with the Andy Hardy movies. As you can see from these three types of comedies, some types of comedies have proven to be popular for decades, and there is no sign that those three types of comedies will fade out from theaters any time soon.

But what I really want to discuss are some types of comedies that have not been very popular with comedic filmmakers. One such example is the "sketch" comedy movie. Those are movies like The Groove Tube, Kentucky Fried Movie, and Prime Time, which consists of various short sketches usually making fun of commercials, movies, and television shows. Then there is the "spoof" movie, a.k.a. the Airplane! genre. Movies in this genre are usually making fun of one particular kind of movie genre and have various kind of gags popping up at a very fast pace. Besides Airplane!, other examples include Top Secret!, and The Naked Gun, all three of which were by the same creators, known commonly as the ZAZ Team. Both the "sketch" and the "spoof" comedy genres have produced some very popular movies, so it may be a mystery to many viewers as to why filmmakers haven't made a huge number of these movies compared to those comedy genres discussed in this review's first paragraph. Well, I think there are a few reasons. I think one big reason is that the pace of these movies throws off a lot of filmmakers. Audiences have grown accustomed to these movies having one gag after another in rapid succession, and expect all these gags to be extremely funny after being spoiled by movies like Airplane! Coming up with a script that has this can challenge even the funniest writers. When you think about it, most other kind of comedies take more time between gags. Another reason, at least one that comes to "spoof" movies, is that this rapid gag pace doesn't leave much room for character development. It can be done - we cared about the character of Ted Striker in Airplane! even though he was a goofball. However, in Wrongfully Accused, the movie made the tragic mistake of not letting us get to know Leslie Nielsen's character in depth before he was carted off to jail. As a result, I didn't have much interest in this character or his plight. It certainly didn't help that the rest of the movie simply wasn't that much funny.

It also didn't help the "spoof" genre when screenwriters Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg got in on the scene, making absolutely terrible "spoof" movies such as Date Movie and Vampires Suck. With such terrible "spoof" movies like those in recent years, I think that a moratorium should be imposed on the "spoof" movie genre for a considerable amount of time until a new (and talented) breed of Off The Markcomic filmmakers come along and can put a fresh spin on the genre. Despite this feeling of mine, I have wanted to review a new "spoof" movie for this web site for some time. The problem is that most "spoof" movies are well known, and this web site is devoted to unknown movies. But my regular patrols of pawn shops and thrift stores seemed to pay off recently when I found a copy of Off The Mark, since the back of the video box promised that it was, "In the wildest madcap tradition of Airplane! and Kentucky Fried Movie." And I hadn't heard anything about this movie before stumbling upon it. So of course I bought it and brought it home to watch and review. Here's the plot synopsis from the back of the video box: "Growing up, Howard Markel (Mark Neely, Soul Man) faced obstacles that would have levelled Hulk Hogan: a nasty Russian kid dognapped his closest pal, Shep; a schoolyard fall has left his legs with a weird, spastic malady, and he has chronic troubles getting - or keeping - girlfriends. Despite this dreary history, Howard stands on the threshold of his greatest moment, as a competitor in the Plutonium Man Triathlon. Not only are there world class athletes, including the now-grown-up Dmitri (David D'Arnal, Irreconcilable Differences), but a global television audience learning everything about everybody, 'up close and intimate', from the anchormen (Jon Cypher (Valdez Is Coming) and Barry Corbin (Under Cover)). And there's Howard's two closest friends, Jenell Johnson (Terry Farrell, Red Sun Rising), a beautiful and one-promiscuous girl-jock who helps Howard overcome all of his difficulties, and James B. White (Clarence Gilyard Jr., Walker: Texas Ranger), a black kid from the wrong side of the ghetto in search of "soul". To find out how they make out, with each other and against the nasty Russian, you'll have to watch Off The Mark."

So is Off The Mark indeed in the spirit of movies like Airplane! and Top Secret! by having such stuff as funny things happening in the background of assorted scenes, parodies of scenes from famous movies, corny old jokes, various plays on words and familiar expressions, and gags stuffed in the closing credits - all of which coming towards viewers at a lightning fast speed? Well, I think the best way to answer that question would be to list a sample of the gags found in the movie. The beginning of the movie consists of a TV sports show, whose opening is a montage of sports clips - diving, gymnastics, car racing, boxing kangaroos, and the famous slow motion clip of a man being shot in the stomach by a cannonball. Later, a journalist with a card in his hat that has "PRESS" written on it finds every person walking by him tapping his hat. When the aforementioned sports show anchormen comment that Jenell matured as a runner, we see her breasts suddenly expand as she is running. After Jenell and Howard meet and decide to go on a date, and also deciding to "go Dutch", they arrive at a restaurant wearing traditional clothing of Holland. The post-secondary learning institute that Jenell and Howard attend is called "Altered State". When one character states during a low point that it's not the end of the world, a nuclear blast is seen in the background. The cliché of a newspaper that spins in a circle is altered by it suddenly spinning out of camera range and hitting Howard in the face. And in the climatic triathlon race, there is the expected point where Howard and his arch enemy are racing neck to neck a few feet from the finish line, when all of a sudden... well, I don't want to spoil the movie's best gag, though I'll give you a hint: The gag is a recreation of a notorious real life moment in televised sports.

I feel I should add that these quite varied attempts at humor are just some of the huge total amount of gags to be found in Off The Mark. And all the gags are fired off at a rapid pace, just like a Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker enterprise. So Off The Mark's claims to be another movie in the spirit of Airplane! are indeed true. The obvious next question to be answered is if the movie is actually funny. Well, I did laugh. Though I didn't find the movie to be as funny as classic spoof movies from the ZAZ team, I thought I got my money's worth. Yes, my description in the above paragraph of the kind of gags in the movie did indeed list some very old and corny gags. But even in those moments, the movie provokes chuckles and laughs instead of groans. I think a lot of this has to do with the direction by Bill Berry (Brotherhood Of Death). Berry (who also co-wrote the screenplay) more often than not directs the movie in a more subtle manner instead of the sledgehammer style that more often than not can be found in failed comedies of this type. With the humor in the movie not being so in-your-face, the movie builds up an amiable feeling. The movie basically admits it's a corny enterprise and doesn't command the audience to laugh, instead allowing the audience to decide for itself. There is also a sweet and innocent feeling to everything we see on display throughout Off The Mark. Although the movie earned an "R" rating (for several scenes of mass nudity), never once does the movie feel vulgar or offensive. In fact, it feels quite charming instead, and I think that was another prime reason why I found myself opening up to the movie despite it sporting gags I might have found lame and predictable in another comedy.

Still, as I said, while Off The Mark is funny enough to be worth tracking down, it can't be considered another Airplane! It has a few problems that hold it back from classic status. I guess one problem some viewers might have is that the movie's low budget does show at times, though honestly it did not concern me that much - I was looking for laughs, not eye candy. I did have some problems with the script, however. Now, I do praise Berry and his fellow screenwriter for not letting the story go too long; the movie only lasts about 80 minutes, including the closing credits. But all the same, there is some material, while funny, does not seem to be necessary for the story. The whole subplot about the James B. White character and his search for "soul" could have been easily eliminated, being simple padding. Clarence Gilyard Jr. does shine in the role, however, making more of an impression than his co-stars, which probably explains why he alone went on to bigger and better things. I don't really blame those other actors for their lack of spark and personality, though - I blame the screenplay again. There's not much given to the rest of the cast to help them make their characters strong. While Mark Neely does show some physical humor when his character gets into a spastic state, we don't really learn much about what's going through his character's head. The character of Howard is driven to compete and overcome his handicap, but we never really get to hear him talk about this in depth to his friends and family. As a result, it's kind of hard to care about this guy, and have an emotional stake in the movie. Yes, the prime aim of a movie like Off The Mark is to make the audience laugh, and it manages to do that. But if it had more heart and humanity, even the goofball kind, I think today it would be a lot more well known and loved than it is now, and it wouldn't be near impossible to find a copy more than thirty years later.

(Posted October 27, 2015)

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: Love At Stake, Pandemonium, When Nature Calls

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