CRACKING UP (1977).
This seemingly-forgotten comedy had its world premiere in Champaign, Illinois, with a reported seven customers per screening. I'm not surprised. But two decades later, this hit-and-mostly-miss feature is awash with recognizable faces, in some of their earliest gigs. Misguided from its first moments, this strives to be a GROOVE TUBE-styled success, but is such a ragged concoction that only isolated moments make the grade... When a massive earthquake sends California sliding into the ocean, cities are gutted and dead bodies litter the landscape -- so bring on the laughs! The Firesign Theatre's Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman (infinitely funnier in J-MEN FOREVER) play newscasters Walter Concrete and Barbara Halters, who cover the chaos and provide a framework for leaden comedy sketches and commercial parodies which have little to do with the quake. One amusing exception is the Pasadena Rose Bowl Parade, which now consists of injured, moaning survivors, dragged along by nurses. Fred Willard (along with his Ace Trucking Company pals) turns up in a tasteless bit about a job interview conducted by the handicapped and plays a posh maitre d' at a roadside diner. Other skits include Edie McClurg and pre-AIRPLANE flamer Steve Stucker. The best moments are courtesy of Credibility Gap members Harry Shearer, Michael McKean and David L. Lander. A (pre-Squiggy) Lander hosts a Polish talk-show, with a hair-netted (pre-Lenny) McKean as his barely sentient guest -- an Irish-Pole (who's both stupid and drunk). Later, Lander and Shearer play a reporter and a concert promoter, doing a hilarious send-up of "Who's on first?" (substituting the bands The Who, The Guess Who, and Yes). Finally, McKean and Shearer take up pre-SPINAL TAP instruments, with Lander on vocals during the Illegal Alien Variety Hour. The segues between the skits play like a post-apocalyptic version of LAUGH-IN, while The Tubes' Fee Waybill plays a scientist who surveys the damage and contributes soundtrack tunes like "White Punks on Dope." Directed by Rowby Goren and Chuck Staley (I know... who?), this is a severely mixed bag, pocked with gratuitous nudity and drug humor, in order to garner an R-rating. Oddly enough, CRACKING UP most closely resembles present-day SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE shows, by never knowing when to put a limp skit to rest. Even at only 69 minutes, this celluloid crapshoot needs a good trimming.
© 1998 by Steven Puchalski.