Film Reviews

Big Screen TV

True happiness requires laughing so suddenly and so hard that soda comes out your nose, and doing so often. Luckily, to help us do just that, we now have Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy and Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. Both are based on shows easily found on cable, and, ticket prices being what they are, one might wonder why anyone should plunk down $6.50 for something they can get for free on TV. Here's a reason: fun. Brain Candy and MST 3000: The Movie are so much pure, giddy fun that I'd even be optimistic about a Simpsons feature.

Brain Candy is more ambitious than the show from which it's derived, while the MST 3000 movie sticks to its broadcast formula. For the few who don't know about the Kids or MST 3000, here's the deal: the Kids in the Hall are a troupe of Canadian comedians whose now defunct half-hour show (what are shown on Comedy Central are reruns) featured five guys doing sketch comedy. Like Monty Python, they did drag, including dressing up as the Queen when necessary, and made fun of everything and anything. The availability of Kids in the Hall since 1989, when they first appeared on HBO, is why a lot of people didn't care that Saturday Night Live went downhill. The Kids provided all the sketch comedy anyone needed.

As for MST 3000, it's vaguely po-mo TV that combines live action, puppetry and some of the worst movies ever made. The basic notion is that a man named Mike and three robots he's made -- Gypsy, Tom Servo and Crow -- are trapped in an Earth-orbiting satellite, in which they watch old science fiction flicks and make fun of them. There's more, such as bosses on the ground who monitor their onetime employee's mind, but the snide comments that accompany the cheesy flicks are the core of it. Mike and the robots are not a polite audience, and thanks to a team of crack writers, their referential witticisms make watching them watch movies a meta-movie-watching experience.

But with Brain Candy, at least, what you see on the small screen is only a hint of what the big screen version has to offer. There are some surprises, the biggest being a narrative. Although the opening scenes, typical Kids scenes of ordinary-looking people with bizarre ideas, seem to be unrelated skits, they're tied together with a story line, thin though it may be. The plot has to do with a new drug, Gleemonex, that promises to "make it 72 degrees inside your head, all the time." Pharmaceutical companies, anti-depressants and the self-important fretting of the worried well are all spoofed. The Kids -- David Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson -- play more than 40 characters: depressed patients, pharmaceutical company executives, research scientists, a psychiatrist, a repressed gay man, his long-suffering wife, a heavy metal singer and his groupie. This sort of versatility will be no surprise to Kids fans, but those fans will be happy to know that even the drag roles work when the Kids are in a real movie with real supporting players and crowd scenes. For your movie dollar, you get better sets, better cinematography, animation (!) and faux industrial footage from the Gleemonex factory.

These production values don't cost us any Kids' weirdness, though -- that would be a fatal loss. The great thing about the Kids is, it's impossible to figure our who's the oddest. Though some of their best TV characters don't make the move to film -- no Chicken Lady from Mark McKinney, no blood-spattered doctor who asks, "How far can you go on charm? Well, pretty far, actually," from David Foley -- but in their place we get new freakishness. Cancer Boy (Bruce McCulloch) is perhaps the most disturbing. Chemo-bald and fiercely cheerful, he buzzes around in his wheelchair chattering, "Every day is a gift, every day is a gift." This is not sick humor, thisis not political incorrectness -- this is its own animal.

MST 3000 is also kind of off the map, comedy-wise. But where Brain Candy is an expansion of what the Kids did on TV, MST 3000: The Movie is a stripped down, albeit large-format, version of the show. There is no invention exchange and, sadly, they do not have a short educational feature, some early gem from the '50s or '60s on posture or poultry, before the film. (The robots are at their best when deconstructing and talking back to archaic educational shorts.) We just get Mike and his robot friends being subjected to This Island Earth.

Trace Beaulieu, who is the voice of the robot Crow, the evil Dr. Forrester and one of the screenwriters, explains that This Island Earth was chosen out of the hundreds of bad sci-fi movies from the '50s because, "These aliens with big foreheads come to our planet, and they get all the best minds -- the scientists -- to help them, but the scientists have no idea why they are helping them. It makes no sense at all. And it has really poor special effects."

Really poor special effects are key. The MST 3000 creators like them in their movies, and they like them on their show. Though the fact that Crow and Tom Servo are pretty haphazard puppets really shows on the big screen, getting a good glimpse of all the effluvia floating around the satellite is great. And CrowE Well, haphazard puppet or not, America's favorite sarcastic, gender-confused robot should be larger than life. He is important.

As, for that matter, MST 3000 is important and the Kids in the Hall are important. There's been a lot of talk lately about virtues, a lot of talk about what we should value. None of this talk has mentioned silliness, as if we could get through life without being silly now and then. These two movies, and the TV shows that spawned them, are not Swiftian satire, they don't ooze subtext and the topical humor is minimal. The laughs here are from the tickling, goosing, game-playing high-spirited silliness of the talented writers and performers. Such inspired silliness is good for the soul. And seeing such silliness in a formal setting, in a theater full of people, is a profound experience. And one worth paying for.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie.
Directed by Jim Mallon.
Rated PG-13.
71 minutes.

The Kids in the Hall Brain Candy.
Directed by Kelly Makin.
Rated R.
90 minutes.

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Edith Sorenson