5 ‘Dumb’ Comedies That Are Brilliant
Movie comedies span a wide spectrum of quality ranging from the lowbrow toilet humor of an Adam Sandler movie to the esteemed high art of an Adam Sandler movie in which he shouts about crystals. While many supposedly "dumb" comedies have been escorted out of the pantheon of cinema like drunk teens from an all-night Wendy's, there are some we feel warrant artistic re-consideration, such as ...
The Cable Guy Is A Psychological Character Study
The creepiest Jim Carrey project that didn't involve using children's photos without permission to push anti-vaxxer propaganda, the critically-deridedThe Cable Guy was basically Fatal Attraction but with two dudes and free HBO. The dark comedy finds Carrey as the titular technician, Chip, obsessively pursuing the friendship of his milquetoast architect client Steven, played by Matthew Broderick. Chip installs a big screen TV in Steven's apartment without asking, crashes his basketball game, and nearly impales him at Medieval Times -- the second-most awkward way to end a visit to Medieval Times, just behind producing a chicken grease-stained engagement ring.
Sure it’s silly, but the movie was way ahead of its time. As disturbing as some of Chip's behavior is, he's ultimately not the villain, but rather a victim of our media-obsessed culture. Chip's ability to bend society to his whims using free premium television hook-ups is wildly outdated today, when you can simply steal your friend's Netflix password and call it a day. But the larger message is arguably more relevant now. No, cable isn't a big deal anymore, but there's way more content in the world than ever before. The internet, and social media specifically, have only amplified the problems that led to Chip's isolation from the real world. And, even back in 1996, the movie seemed aware that an entertainment sea change was coming, giving Chip a monologue about the future of the "information superhighway" in which every American would "integrate their television, phone, and computer."
And Chip's actions aren't without some nuanced psychological underpinnings; some have theorized that Chip suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. Psychologist Dr. Kirk Honda devoted an entire episode of his podcast to the topic. And while Dr. Honda didn’t conclude that Chip totally fit the profile, he certainly ticked a lot of boxes, including "frantic efforts to avoid abandonment" and the "extreme idealization and devaluation" of people, a "hallmark" of BPD. This explains why Chip immediately devotes himself to Steven then turns on him at the slightest inkling of abandonment. (And Carrey didn't even have to act like a total dick to pull it off.)
Hot Rod -- An Idiot Man-Child Story That Actually Holds Up
Originally written for Will Ferrell, The Lonely Island's 2007 box office bomb Hot Rod tells the story of a delusional man-child named Rod (played by Andy Samberg) who dreams of being an Evel Knievel-like stuntman. When his jerk of a stepfather (played by the great Ian McShane) becomes terminally ill, Rod organizes a "big-ass stunt" to raise $50,000 for a heart transplant ... but only so Rod can finally punch the crap out of him.
The movie holds up surprisingly well, in part because while other comedies of the early 2000s seem hopelessly dated, Hot Rod exists in a kind of cozily timeless universe where people blast Europe CDs like it's 1986, but also the internet is a thing -- which allows Rod to gain fame as a viral video star, mirroring The Lonely Island's own career trajectory.
And even though the idiot man-child has become a tiresome stock character, it actually works here. Why? Well partly because Rod's cartoonishly violent relationship with his step-dad is oddly emotional and functions as both an effective subversion of Hollywood sentimentality and as a literal rite of passage for Rod.
Most importantly, Rod's childish aspirations aren’t totally crapped on by the movie. While another 2007 man-child comedy, Knocked Up, framed its dopey male protagonist's personal growth as the abandonment of friends and fun in order to please his humorless girlfriend, Hot Rod is the total opposite. Rod's love interest Denise is one of the few people in his life who is supportive and encouraging of his dream. The whole movie is about Rod continually striving to reach adulthood (he literally wears a fake mustache while performing his stunts) while so many other movies about idiotic dudes (like Billy Madison and Step Brothers) mine comedy purely in their characters' regression. Plus there's the whole "cool beans" scene.
Dick Is About The Dangers Of Treating Politicians Like Celebrities
You might not remember Dick, the 1999 comedy about two teen girls who get hired as Richard Nixon's official White House dog walkers after they accidentally witness the Watergate burglary. The girls soon transfer their respective celeb crushes from teen idol Bobby Sherman to Nixon, AKA "Dick." That infatuation fizzles out when they realize what a creep (pun intended) Nixon really is, leading them to become the mysterious informant Deep Throat.
For starters, the cast of Dick is terrific; the two leads are played by future Oscar-nominees Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams, and the rest of the ensemble is peppered with comedians from Saturday Night Live and The Kids in the Hall. Best of all, Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein are played by Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch and depicted as bumbling narcissists -- which, in retrospect, may actually be more accurate than All The President's Men.
But Dick has less to do with Nixon than it does Bill Clinton. It was made right after the Clinton impeachment, and the story of teens worshipping the President as a heartthrob seems more in line with his biography than Nixon's. Telling the story of two kids becoming disillusioned by Tricky Dick feels like a stand-in for society's cultural reckoning with Clinton, who was initially celebrated in the media as the cool, hip politician. He was the guy who wailed on his sax on The Arsenio Hall Show while wearing shades, earning him the nickname "The MTV President" from people who had presumably never watched a single goddamn second of MTV.
Clinton famously turned out to be a giant piece of sleazy crap who was impeached by Congress for lying under oath and obstruction of justice. Even Clinton's fun saxophone-filled talk show appearance was just a ruse to distract us all from yet another sex scandal. Taken more broadly, Dick can be seen as a warning against viewing politicians through the gauzy uncritical beer goggles of adoration that we do celebrities.
The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear Championed Environmentalism
You might think that a movie about an incompetent law enforcement officer who is personal friends with O.J. Simpson wouldn't hold-up super-well today, but the second film in the Naked Gun trilogy is a surprisingly apt story about ... ecojustice?
Sure The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear features random lion attacks, gas-powered robotic dildos, and Barbara Bush hanging from a building in her underwear, but it actually had an important environmental message at its core. The plot found the heads of coal, oil and nuclear power companies teaming up to abduct a government scientist and replace him with a double who would then endorse their fuel sources to the President.
Which is funny, but not an entirely inappropriate metaphor for what was actually going on at the time. In real life, oil companies spent billions attempting to obfuscate the truth of the climate crisis from the world. They never arranged any kidnappings or hired any doppelgangers (that we know of) but their campaign of disinformation included funding climate change-denying researchers.
Sure, this was all in a goofy slapstick comedy featuring the future star of Stan Helsing, but making environmentalism the focal point of any mainstream Hollywood movie was unusual at the time. And it wasn’t just a plot point of the movie, the premiere party also served as a fundraiser "for energy research, tree planting and recycling."
Wayne's World Predicted YouTube Culture
Movies based on Saturday Night Live sketches are generally so bad they should be buried in an unmarked grave in the middle of the woods, in a town where the words "It's" and "Pat" are prohibited by law. Of course there are some exceptions, one of which being Wayne's World. While most people acknowledge its hilarity, a lot of critics casually dismissed it as juvenile fluff. Back in 1992, The New York Times called it a "revel of stupidity." But here's the thing: Wayne's World is one of the most important films of its time ... way! (We're assuming you said "No way!" during the ellipses).
For starters, the story of Wayne's World was basically a microcosm for the cultural shift of 1990s America; moving away from the yuppies of the Reagan generation and handing over the zeitgeist keys to the disheveled teenagers of the grunge era (Nirvana's Nevermind came out just one year before Wayne's World). Our heroes are shaggy suburban kids while the villain is a cookie cutter '80s slimeball, played by former Brat Packer Rob Lowe. Not only is the story about rejecting corporate America's attempts to reign in youth culture, Wayne's World is savvily transgressive enough to confess to the audience that even the movie itself is a corporate entity that isn't necessarily to be trusted.
What's most impressive, though, is how Wayne's World not only captures the beginning of the decade, but how it anticipates the end of it. Wayne and Garth's homemade, creator-owned content may have seemed novel in 1992, but would become commonplace with the internet blogs that arrived later in the '90s and eventually in forums like YouTube and podcasting. In a lesser movie, Wayne's motivation would be to land a network TV contract -- but here it's to escape one. The movie is ultimately about the importance of democratizing art and entertainment. At the very least, you have to admit that it's the greatest movie of all time that features both Alice Cooper and the T-1000.
Top Image: Paramount Pictures