Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ugh: The Stupids

I could just end it here.  That poster is the funniest part of the entire movie (it's funny because it's true).  However, we must soldier onward...

Sure, with a movie titled The Stupids, you have to expect it to be stupid on some level, perhaps in some kind of cleverly satirical way.  But no.  This is different.  This movie goes beyond stupid and into a level of filmic idiocy only reserved for Air Bud sequels and direct-to-video sex comedies.  I have to believe that John Landis was messing with us here.  Now, granted, I'm sure a project like The Stupids was all he could muster up at this point in his career, and he's clearly trying to make the most of the material, but not even the man who brought us The Blues Brothers and Animal House could save this one.

Tom Arnold stars as Stanley Stupid, the dumb patriarch of an even dumber family, who discovers that his garbage is continuously being stolen.  He trails the 'thieves' back to the landfill where he witnesses a black market arms deal, instead believing that it's part of a conspiracy to steal everyone's mail, all run by an evil genius named Sender (as in 'Return to Sender').  The family's subsequent adventure getting into and out of mortal danger, making a series of horribly, yes, stupid assumptions, and just generally engaging in a number of eye-rollingly embarrassing activities.

So, why exactly does The Stupids make me go 'Ugh'?  Well, for one, this movie seems like decent material for a dark comedy, or at least some kind of smart satire.  Instead, Landis and his crew seemed perfectly content to take this thing down the kids-comedy route.  The thing is, certain gags or scenes might undoubtedly go above some kids' heads, or simply seem too dark.  You can see Landis' desire to take things darker at pretty much every turn, but for whatever reason, it never happens.

So we've established that the movie is one giant missed opportunity.  That alone can't make it ugh-worthy, can it?  No.  There's also the matter of craft.  John Landis' style just doesn't work for this particular film.  You can just tell that he's aching to toss in one more violent gag or explosion or anything to make The Stupids enjoyable even for him.  I'm sure the finale, a bizarre military shootout in a warehouse full of explosives, made him as giddy as a kid in a candy store.

Tom Arnold is constantly mugging for the camera, clearly assuming that that is the height of comedy.  I'll admit it, I laughed when he turned to the camera, stared straight into the lens and shouted, "Oh my God!"  Other than that, Arnold's just not that funny.  He talks his way through a poorly staged rendition of "I'm My Own Grandpa," which, for some reason, plays (in its entirety) over the end credits.  

There are three actors that appear in the film whose presence here simply vexes me.  First, there's Robert Keeshan (aka Captain Kangaroo), who pops in and out as a museum curator named Sender.  He ends up being the object of Stupid's misguided pursuit to end Sender's reign of terror (something I never thought I'd ever have to type).  In Stupid's fantasy scenario, Sender is played by none other than Christopher Lee, clearly doing the best he can with his limited screentime and even more limited material.  

Then there's Mark Metcalf, playing the colonel that the Stupids chase after, who actually IS involved in a black arms deal.  Landis fans will recognize him from Animal House, but I better remember him from his Wile E. Coyote-ish characters from two Twisted Sister videos.  Neither of these men have much to do here, and you'd be better off watching the videos linked above, an episode of Captain Kangaroo, or The Man with the Golden Gun.

The Stupids.  I can't, in good conscience give such a film more than 1.5 (*1/2) stars.  Ugh.


  1. Who decided that Tom Arnold should make movies?

  2. Tom Arnold. He was married to Roseanne in the early '90s, and when you're married to the top sitcom on TV, you can do any irresponsible thing you want. Like starring in The Stupids.