Wednesday, July 14, 2010

LEWIS, KAHN and FELDMAN ruthlessly chew-up and spit out Vonnegut in the merciless 1982 screen debacle SLAPSTICK OF ANOTHER KIND

Jerry Lewis, Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman star in this tragi-comedy of misplaced aliens, based on the best-selling novel, Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut.

Wilbur (Lewis) and Eliza (Kahn) are the smartest (and ugliest) brother-and-sister team ever to set foot on earth. They are two misfit infants kept in hiding by their parents (also played by Lewis and Kahn) and their doting butler (Feldman), and relentlessly pursued by the government. Apart, they are the dumbest kids on the planet, but together they hold the answers to the secrets of the universe. But will anyone believe them?

Alongside 1999's infamous bomb Breakfast of Champions (starring Bruce Willis, Nick Nolte, and Albert Finney), Slapstick (Of Another Kind) is one of the worst adaptations of Vonnegut ever to hit the big screen. Vonnegut's darkly humorous novel about two deformed, dim-witted twins who become super-geniuses when putting their heads together was given a non-sensical subtitle and a pointless framing device involving spaceships and aliens to make it appear to be a parody of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Add in the presence of Kahn and Feldman, and it's plain that the producers of this fiasco were hoping to fool audiences into believing this was a Mel Brooks affair. But writer-director Steven Paul is no Mel Brooks.

In 1982, Paul was something of a wunderkind, listed by Guinness as the world's youngest film producer. Since then, he's gone on to make some of the worst movies on record, including Baby Geniuses (1 & 2), Karate Dog and a cross-dressing Gene Simmons in Never Too Young to Die. (Not the guy most likely to succeed at Vonnegut.) In fact, Paul only ended up filming the first
chapter of Vonnegut's book, leaving out huge chunks of story that might have made us empathize with the twins.

But where else can you find a tiny Pat Morita sitting in a rice bowl? Where else can you see a former castaway on Gilligan's Island (Jim Backus) play the president of the United States? Where else could you see Jerry Lewis and Madeline Khan walking on stilts, wearing giant ears, in Frankenstein Monster haircuts that slide back to reveal foreheads that throb and pulsate? Funny for all the wrong reasons, this Bad Movie Free-for-all is definitely worth seeking out.

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