Review: A Futile and Stupid Gesture (Sundance)

A Futile and Stupid Gesture (Sundance)
5 10

PLOT: The rise and fall of National Lampoon, as seen through the eyes of its two founders, Doug Kenney (Will Forte) and Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson).

REVIEW: It’s clear that all involved with A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE idolize the people behind “National Lampoon”. In its era, the Lampoon was seen as one of the most defiant, potentially dangerous underground magazines, which dared poke fun at the establishment in a patented smart-aleck way many would say was co-opted by “Saturday Night Live”, which poached much of its talent. A one time powerhouse that printed magazines, had a radio show, a highly successful stage play (“Lemmings”) and produced one of the biggest hit comedies of the era, ANIMAL HOUSE, it must have seemed unstoppable in its heyday.

If you’ve read the book this is based on or seen the documentary DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD, you’ll know that nothing lasts forever, especially when copious amounts of coke and cash are involved. This focuses on the rise and fall of Doug Kenney, whose name more casual fans will recognize from the credits of ANIMAL HOUSE and CADDYSHACK.

While likely a passion project for Will Forte, A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE feels like too much of a quickie effort to really make much of a dent. Directed by the great David Wain, this suffers from low production value, with some of the worst wigs and costumes I’ve ever seen in a major release. Silly wigs work well in “Wet Hot American Summer”, but this is meant to be taken at least semi-seriously.

There are a few good things about it. The framing device is actually clever. If you don’t know about Kenney's decline, you might think the idea of an older Kenney (played by Martin Mull) looking back might not be all that original but if you know his story you’ll get why. I also like how the fourth wall is broken,with Kenney admitting to the staff’s sexism and obliviousness to any writers who weren’t white and male. They were a product of their time to be sure, but this is a clever way of dealing with the elephant in the room.

While decades too old for his part, Forte does well as the manic Kenney, while Gleeson is his more low-key, mannered other half. Most of the big personalities that have gone on to become household names are only depicted fleetingly, a result of the fact that it’s kinda tough for anyone to believably embody someone like John Belushi or Bill Murray, with the exception being Chevy Chase. Given his friendship with Kenney, it’s no surprise he’s made a major character, with him appropriately played by his old “Community” classmate Joel McHale (even if - again - he’s way too old for the part). McHale’s performance is affectionate, embodying the young Chase we remember from SNL and his early films, although was this really what Chase was like in real life?

The story follows the earlier doc beat by beat, right down to Kenney’s open loathing of CADDYSHACK, a movie his own coke-addled behavior derailed ( I didn’t care for them knocking Rodney Dangerfield, whose humor arguably holds up better than theirs). While not a particularly bad movie and an OK streaming watch, National Lampoon fans won't learn anything new. Those who've never heard of it won't really get what made Lampoon so important. This makes them just look like a bunch of funny jerks, and not much more.

Source: JoBlo.com



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