Film Reviews

Doesn't Suck

For years, smarm mongers have urged us to get in touch with our inner child, a delightful little creature who would greatly improve our outlook and behavior. But Beavis and Butt-head rocketed to MTV fame by meeting truer, deeper needs: the cravings for adolescent-male stupidity and pathetic sex jokes. Animator Mike Judge's badly drawn couch potatoes, with their relentless idiot giggles, personified the pimply, hopeless id. In their 15-minute appearances, we found catharsis.

The good news (and the bad news, too) is that Beavis and Butt-head Do America delivers basically the same goods in movie form. The videos are gone, but White Zombie anchors the soundtrack. The boys' goal of scoring remains, as do their heh-heh-hehs. And does Cornholio appear? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes -- Beavis's frantic, savant alter ego thrashes around in all his spastic glory. The overall result is, well, not a bad way to waste 80 minutes.

The opening sequence -- one of the year's best -- is a rare diversion from the Beavis and Butt-head formula. Even so, the sequence is pure TV, pure '70s TV: The witless duo, sporting afros and bell-bottoms, reenact the garish opening credits of vintage action shows. Charlie's Angels is not forgotten; in an homage to '70s trash movies, Isaac Hayes wrote teh Shaft-style score.

That charming, nostalgic intro is the only showy moment that creator Mike Judge and co-writer Joe Stillman allow themselves. The rest of Beavis and Butt-head is studiously true to its TV origins. That's not surprising: Judge has only written the TV show before, and his partner Stillman has a strong TV background (he is the author of the "How to Be Swell" Nick at Night promo and was a longtime writer and story editor on Pete and Pete). Not surprisingly, the movie is paced like television; it's less a single, coherent narrative than a collection of 15-minute scenarios meant to be broken up by commercials.

Judge and Stillman were clever enough to make their movie a cross-country quest. Beavis and Butt-head's TV is stolen -- the worst thing that Judge thought could happen to them -- and as they attempt to recover it, the action starts anew each time they hit a new town or cross paths with a new set of characters. Their search leads to stops in Bald Knob and Butte and the Grand Canyon gift shop, where the two are awed by automatic urinals.

Judge, doing the celebrity thing in the Beverly Hills Four Seasons hotel, seemed a little awed himself, and a little awkward about being interviewed by rooms full of journalists all day long. But he's very sure of his characters and how this movie had to be written.

First off, he never even considered live action, although big-money moguls suggested it. Judge suspects studio people, familiar with the profits of Bill and Ted and Wayne and Garth, simply had no idea what they were bargaining for.

He admits that he and Stillman had the problem of scripting for dolts. "They can't be afraid of their own lives," Judge says, citing the pair's obvious intellectual limits, and they aren't capable of exposition, so things have to happen around them. Successful movies have been made with this tack. Judge cites Inspector Clouseau, the central ninny in the Pink Panther movies: "I compare it to that, not that they're on the same level."

Despite those scripting calculations, the heart and soul of Judge's art comes unbidden. Repeatedly, the movie critics asked Judge, "How did you come up with Cornholio?" His rather embarrassed answer: "It just hit me like a ton of bricks one night.

"I was getting ready for bed, and I thought Beavis should just pull his T-shirt over his head and start babbling ... and I was also thinking what would happen if Beavis were off on his own without Butt-head around to sort of reel him in." Butt-head, he explains, is the one who can almost sort of think clearly.

The bond between Beavis and Butt-head reminds some of the bond between Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. The animated characters have only each other for help and guidance, because no one else will have anything to do with them. As Lewis would say, the characters have a love between them.

We know what happened to Martin and Lewis, and the national heartbreak that followed their split. What does the future hold for Beavis and Butt-head? Could Beavis, the "funny one," go on to bloated celebrity, become a pinkie-ring-wearing caricature of his former self? Might we be subjected to an eerily mature Beavis, sitting smugly on talk shows rambling on about the love lost and the shallowness of these cartoons today? And what of Butt-head? Being a straight man is a thankless task, and many have spent what should be their golden years in a bitter haze of prescription drugs and single-malt scotch. Oh, it would be better for us all if Beavis and Butt-head remain on the couch, and never score. The innocence of their prime is their glory and our treasure.

Beavis and Butt-head Do America. Directed by Mike Judge. With Beavis and Butt-head.

Rated PG-13.
80 minutes.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Edith Sorenson