This morning I saw…no, endured David Wain‘s A Futile and Stupid Gesture (Netflix, 1.26). Based on the same-titled 2006 biography by Josh Karp, it’s a half-surreal, half-inept and wholly depressing saga of National Lampoon co-founder, Animal House producer-screenwriter and self-destructive genius Doug Kenney.
I don’t want to overstate my reaction, but ten minutes in I was saying to myself “nope, naaah, nope, nope…wrong, fake, not believable…shit, this is mindblowingly bad.”
It dishonors the legacy of the National Lampoon by suggesting that Kenney and his editorial colleagues weren’t very interesting. John Aboud and Michael Colton‘s screenplay supplies clunky exposition and by-the-numbers plotting until it seeps out of your ears. The interplay among National Lampoon staffers isn’t brisk or brainy or cruel enough — there’s no believing it. Cranking out monthly NatLamp issues couldn’t have been this tedious.
There’s no believing Will Forte‘s performance as Kenney for an instant, partly because (a) he looks and and sounds like an actor pretending to be an allegedly funny guy rather than the Real McCoy, and (b) partly because Forte was a bit overweight during filming and therefore doesn’t look like Kenney as much as late-period Truman Capote.
Domnhall Gleason‘s performance as NatLamp co-founder Henry Beard is bland and lifeless, and he wears the same stupid-ass ’70s wig in scene after scene, despite the passing of time and refining of hair styles. The ’70s wigs that everyone wears, in fact, really look like wigs, and the sideburn paste-ons have to be seen to be believed.
There was an older guy two or three rows back who was laughing his head off at too many of the jokes. I eventually couldn’t stand it and turned around and gave him the HE stink-eye.
You may have read that Kenney died on 8.27.80, after falling from a 35-foot cliff on the island of Kauai. There’s some doubt as to whether Kenney accidentally fell or jumped. The film doesn’t show the incident, but it tells us that Kenney’s walking shoes and glasses were found neatly placed at the top of the cliff, which obviously indicates suicide.
I couldn’t wait for Forte to fly to Kauai and end it all. I was muttering “c’mon, man…your life isn’t working out and everyone hates Caddyshack and you’re too fat to play Kenney anyway…please stop what you’re doing, fly to Kauai and die already…I can’t take much more of this.”
A team of actors do their best to portray various National Lampoon staffers and Saturday Night Live stars, and it’s agony watching them fail. Thomas Lennon, Joel McHale, John Gemberling and Jon Daly respectively play Michael O’Donoghue, Chevy Chase, John Belushi and Bill Murray. Rick Glassman isn’t half-bad as Harold Ramis and Lonny Ross certainly resembles Ivan Reitman. But Matt Lucas as Tony Hendra, Paul Scheer as Paul Shaffer and Brian Huskey as John Landis…forget it.
Kenney and Beard more or less invented rude, anti-establishment ’70s humor. Kenney was the crazier and druggier of the two, but by the cultural standards of the Nixon, Ford and Carter era he was regarded as a wickedly funny fellow and a world-class sage.
Read Karp’s biography if you want, but please, please don’t see the Netflix adaptation. Just ignore it and stream Doug Tirola‘s Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant Dead, a NatLamp doc that I saw in Park City three years ago and which is somewhere between 15 and 20 times better than Wain’s film.