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Frozen Assets
(1992)

Director: George Miller
Cast:
Shelley Long, Corbin Bernsen, Larry Miller


Having reviewed over eight hundred movies for this web site, I hope that newbies to The Unknown Movies as well as people who come on a regular basis will be convinced about something specific. That being that I am an expert when it comes to movies. I like to think that I am well skilled in what makes a movie work, whatever genre or genres the movie in question covers. For example, having seen many martial arts movies both domestic and foreign, I know what must be done to make a martial arts fight sequence convincing and exciting, and I've listed the reasons in several past reviews. But I would like to talk about something concerning a specific genre that I haven't really gotten into depth before. The genre is comedy, and the question concerning that genre I would like to answer is: What exactly do I find funny? Well, if I were to have been asked that question before this review, I wouldn't have been able to answer straight away. But in the days before starting to write this review, I gave myself time to think about the question, and I came up with some answers - answers I think many other people would agree with. For example, I find funny seeing some jerk (cinematic or otherwise) getting more or less punished for his bad behavior. Humiliation that doesn't happen to innocent us is very satisfying. Another thing I find funny - provided that it's presented in the right way - is stupidity. The key is making the stupid cinematic characters likable. That's why I find Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello amusing. Something else that I find funny in movies and other media are situations that I can relate to. We've all been stuck in traffic or struggled with taxes, so seeing cinematic people go through these same problems can often be amusing. "Other people having this same problem!" we think. "Isn't that great - I'm not alone! I've been there before."

I could probably go on for some time about stuff that I find funny in movies, but I don't think that it's necessary - I've established that I have a healthy sense of humor just like the average person. As well, I would like to talk about something related to the topic of humor, humor in and out of movies. That being stuff that I don't find to be all that funny. For example, there is plenty of humor that does not date well. Much of it is topical humor; when I watch Family Guy with its constant pop culture references, I know for sure that in twenty years (or even less), a lot of new people tuning into reruns of the show will be mystified by many of the references. I know that I am mystified by multiple references in classic Warner Brothers cartoons with a guy with bad teeth saying, "(So and so) are the craziest people!" Moving on, there are also ideas that seem instantly bad for comedy. While they say that there's no such thing as a bad idea, just bad executions of ideas, I do think that there are some topics that one would be hard pressed to find humor with. There are the occasional rare exceptions, like how Mel Brooks found humor with Jews putting on a musical play about Hitler in The Producers, but rare efforts like that require careful and master planning and execution. The majority of comic writers seem to know this, and usually stay far away from these topics. For example, while MAD Magazine certainly jabbed plenty of people and topics over the years, I don't think it ever entered Dave Berg's mind to do The Lighter Side Of AIDS, nor do I think Sergio Aragones would have ever done A MAD Look At Genocide. (Though Aragones did get as far as looking at racism in one issue.)

There is another kind of humor that I don't find particularly funny. And that happens to be things that at first thought don't strike you as offensive, but also don't seem to instantly suggest that there is humor to be found with a little digging. For example, as I type this, I am also seeing on my Frozen Assetsdesk a pile of papers. Are you laughing yet? I didn't think so. What about if I reveal that the pile of papers are made up of pay stubs from the job where I earn my living? Yeah, I didn't think that made it any funnier as well. There are some topics that seem dead on arrival when it comes to humor. Which brings me to the movie I am reviewing here, Frozen Assets. When I first heard about this comedy and learned about what the majority of its gags were centered around, I wasn't the least bit tickled. Not offended, but I simply didn't find the idea the least bit promising. On the other hand, the idea of reviewing a movie with such an unpromising topic intrigued me. Even it it turned out to be utterly misguided, it would at least be easy to list all the ways the movie went wrong. The movie starts off by introducing us to one of its main characters, Zach Shepard (Bernsen, The Dentist 2). Zach is a minor executive at a Los Angeles bank, and one day he is told he's being transferred to run a branch of the bank in a small town in Oregon. After arriving and meeting Grace Murdock (Long, Cheers), the manager of the bank, he thinks it's going to be business as usual. That is, until he finds out that the bank he will be running is in fact a sperm bank!!! Zach is of course flabbergasted at first, but eventually he gets down to business. He finds out that the bank has been suddenly asked for a large amount of sperm, but they are in short supply of deposits. So Zach decides to hold a contest with a $100,000 prize for the donor with the highest sperm count. With such a large amount of money being offered, as well as Zach successfully rallying the citizens of town for donations, soon hundreds of men are lining up at the bank to donate sperm.

SPERM! Sperm, sperm, sperm, sperm! Sperm, sperm, sperm, sperm! Lovely sperm, wonderful sperm! Fresh sperm in various virile men! Collecting sperm and freezing sperm! Thawing out sperm and putting sperm in test tubes! Planting eggs fertilized by all that sperm into women! Are you laughing yet? If you are an adult of at least reasonable intelligence, I would bet the answer to that question would be the same as mine: a big "NO!" Frozen Assets makes a tragic mistake right from the start when it comes to thinking of what will make an audience laugh. It's the same mistake that the 1995 Airplane!-styled comedy Backfire! made - it thinks that its basic idea it keeps coming to for laughs is automatically funny, so much so that the movie for most of the time doesn't get above level one when it comes to exploiting its subject matter. To me, there's in nothing immediately funny about simply imitating verbatim scenes from another movie (which is what Backfire! did), and there isn't anything immediately funny about sperm for that matter. The secret for a successful comedy when it deals with a certain subject matter - any subject matter - is to take the subject matter and go wild with and around it.  For example, in Airplane!, the filmmakers twisted their recreation of the guitar playing nun from Airport 1975 by having the nun unintentionally almost killing the sick girl she was singing to. That was funny, certainly funnier than Frozen Assets' viewpoint on sperm. If you think back to your early adolescence, when the word "sperm" was a taboo word that made you and your equally young friends instantly laugh just from hearing it all those years ago, you have some understanding about this movie's juvenile attitude towards its subject matter.

If you read my last paragraph carefully, you will have read that I said the movie doesn't attempt to get beyond level one in humor most of the time. Occasionally there is an attempt to get to a higher level of comedy. For example, there is the part of the plot concerning the contest the character of Zach creates in order to get all the sperm the bank needs. This idea had some promise; knowing that competition is a large part of American culture, the possibilities of satirizing what often comes of this competition (like media coverage, for example) are endless. But Frozen Assets blows this ripe opportunity in several different ways. To drum up publicity for the scheme, the character of Zach at the local town hall holds a musical presentation consisting of local cheerleaders singing about the contest and the reward it offers. Unfortunately, this scene isn't the least bit funny, namely because the singing and dancing is so awkward that it goes beyond being a believable presentation cooked up in mere hours, and is instead an extremely contrived experience. Later on in the movie, when the men in the town start lining up in front of the sperm bank, several women in the town start a protest, complaining that they are being deprived of sex. This could have been funny on multiple levels, such as the fact that the town prostitutes could have protested to the media that they were out of work, making a comic parallel to many cases when an essential town business has been wiped out by competition. But the movie, instead of running riot with this plot point, has the protagonists immediately think of a quick fix to this problem in the next scene, and the protest immediately dies and is forgotten about. As you can see from those examples, Frozen Assets more often than has the inability to get to a higher level of comedy since the talent behind the camera seems either clueless or incapable of getting beyond a basic idea.

Then there is the fact that Frozen Assets' talent in front of the camera seems equally incapable of generating their own share of laughs. Out of all the cast, Corbin Bernsen puts the most energy into his performance, such as with his character's penchant for bumping into walls and stumbling around. None of which, as you have probably guessed, is all that amusing. Although he and the other cast members do seem to be trying, they can't overcome the problem that all of the characters in the movie have, that being that all these characters are incredibly stupid. As I indicated in the first paragraph, stupid characters aren't automatically a fatal blow to a comedy, as long as they are likable. But the stupid characters in Frozen Assets are annoying in their stupidity. From Zach's inability to remember where he started in his company years earlier to Grace's sudden found attraction to Zach despite all of his previous stupid and selfish behavior, the stupidity of these characters nowhere feels natural and palatable; you'd swear that they are acting as annoying as possible. There is an additional problem with these stupid characters, and that comes with the inevitable part of the plot when Zach and Grace start falling in love. Quite simply, Bernsen and Long have no chemistry together. There's a feeling of hostility between the two actors, certainly a lot coming from their characters' constant bickering, but also a feeling they are gritting their teeth during attempts at tenderness. I didn't care about these annoying idiots finding happiness together. And with that, Frozen Assets not only shapes up to be one of the unfunniest comedies I have seen in a long time, it's one of the most heartless as well.

(Posted November 6, 2019)

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: Amanda And The Alien, Beer, Cold Turkey

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