Saturday, January 21, 2012
Day 52: The Kentucky Fried Movie
"A quick reminder, these reports are not intended to foster a belief in astrology, but merely to support people who cannot take responsibility for their own lives."
The writing collective of David & Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams got their start doing sketch comedy in their hometown of Milwaukee, operating under the name "Kentucky Fried Theatre." These three men would go on to create some of the greatest comedies of all time, Airplane!, Top Secret & The Naked Gun, but like everyone, that had to start somewhere. Fortunately for them, that somewhere is the hysterically funny sketch comedy film The Kentucky Fried Movie directed by their friend John Landis. This was Landis' second film, and he made it right before he rocketed to stardom with 1978's Animal House.
The film is one of a kind. There hadn't really been films like it before, and the few that have come since, Amazon Women on the Moon & The Onion Movie to name two, have paled in comparison. A great deal of the sketches are horrendously dated, but the humor is timeless. It also features some great cameos from all over the spectrum: George Lazenby, Donald Sutherland, Henry Gibson, Bill Bixby, & Tony Dow to name a few.
The structure is pretty basic, it begins with a commercial parody, then transitions to a morning talk show parody that really kicks things into high gear when a gorilla begins assaulting everyone and everything in sight. It's absurd humor, fully rooted in the tradition of its forebears like The Marx Brothers and Monty Python, but it has an energy all its own. The high point of the early part of the film is a parody trailer for a sexploitation film called Catholic High School Girls in Trouble, produced by the fictional Samuel L. Bronkowitz. The sex, nudity and profanity come fast and furious and it's refreshing to see such a brazen disregard for the standards of the time.
The centerpiece of the film is a forty minute kung-fu parody called A Fistful of Yen. Some of the best jokes are found in this section, and it's the most obvious precursor to their films to come. It's a spot-on parody of the insanely (yet inexplicably, at least to me) popular Bruce Lee films of the 70s. The loving recreation of the tropes of the genre are on full display here, along with the clever wordplay that would come to define their later work.
The last half hour of the film is more sketches. Some highlights include the parody trailers for Cleopatra Schwartz and That's Armageddon, both produced by Samuel L. Bronkowitz, and the final segment of the film where a couple begins having sex while watching the late news, and the late news devolves into a bunch of dudes enjoying the show being put on by the couple.
Top to bottom, the film is inspired and holds up because of its hilarious and brash sensibilities. It's certainly not a career best for any of the talent involved, but it's a pretty damn good first effort for a bunch of amateurs finding their voices. The opening and closing credits feature a song titled "You'll Dream of the New Carioca" and good luck getting it out of your head. It's infectious, annoying, yet endlessly catchy. It's still stuck in my head.
I doubt there are many kids today who would see this film and appreciate it, but considering that I saw it for the first time some fifteen years after it came out, there's hope that future generations will discover it the same way I did. It's a great little movie and will most assuredly have you laughing for the majority of its 83 minute running time.