Bad Cinema: It’s Pat! (Dir: Adam Bernstein, 1994)

“Arlene, I am stunned by the Pat phenomenon. Pat symbolizes, crystalizes, explodes the sexual ambiguities of the 20th Century.” – Camille Paglia

I have never understood why so many people find Saturday Night Live funny. The jokes – if they start out funny at all – are slowly beaten to death in order to fill the run time (or convince us all that laughing will cause cancer).

Also, the blatant way that the hosts (and the Not Ready for Primetime Players) READ THE FUCKING CUE CARDS OFF CAMERA is an affront to my theatrical training. And yes, I am aware that they are writing this up until the last minute; I’ve seen Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip! And no, I don’t care. This is what you all do FOR A LIVING. Get it together. And if you are going to make us watch clueless hosts that you are wrangling for ratings stumble through their dialogue, then, goddamn it, at least make it funny.

The sad thing is the writers are clearly talented when put in a different situation (Tina Fey, Michael Schur, Larry David, Christopher Guest, etc.). And the actors, some of whom over the past 35 years have become listed as national treasures, obviously know what they are doing; Lorne Michaels clearly has an eye for talent. But something happens in that studio at 30 Rock where the pieces just don’t seem to fit.

Here’s an example of their typical style of writing, taken to passably enjoyable extremes because the actor performing it goes for broke:

* Notice how Chris Farley does the whole thing without reading from a cue card….you know, like actors do.

The mother in this sequence is played by Julia Sweeney. Her most famous character on SNL was Pat Riley, the sexually ambiguous, precocious douche bag whose every sketch was dedicated to the others figuring out his/her gender. (Linda Hamilton is werking in this scene…where the hell has she gone?)

The character of Pat was so popular that, like SNL is prone to do, they even made a movie; taking what is potentially funny/interesting for a five minute time span, and stretching it into what is potentially mind numbing/dreadful.

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But something magical happens when Pat makes the leap to the big screen. Yes, he/she becomes even more of a precocious douche bag. But Pat also becomes relatable. And even lovable.

Pat is going through a personal crisis. He/She has jumped from job to job without much thought for the future or the thought of personal responsibility. “To me, it was the adults who always seemed confused.” But Pat has just turned 33, and like so many great figures in history before, this was the year that would change Pat’s life forever.

Pat wants stability. Pat wants love. Pat wants friendship. But doesn’t realize the sacrifice and the work that actually goes into obtaining those things. Pat is also completely unaware that everyone hates him/her. Pat’s “best friend” Kathy (played by a pre-nose-job Kathy Griffin, making her almost unrecognizable…) wants nothing to do with Pat.

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Pat is the definition of the nosy neighbor; one of those people who have no realization of social cues or grace. It doesn’t even register to him/her that the drug store clerk, Tippy (played with gusto by Kathy Najimy) is shrieking in horror at his/her mere presence.

Ignorance is indeed bliss for Pat Riley. Then why does he/she feel that something is missing?

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Enter Chris (Dave Foley), the sexually ambiguous bartender with a PhD in Cultural Anthropology who just loves bartending. Who finds Pat absolutely irresistible. Before they know it, they are on a whirlwind romance that neither of them expected, leading them inevitably down the aisle. That is if Pat’s new neighbor Kyle doesn’t get to Pat first.

Kyle (Charles Rocket) and his bride-to-be move in next door to the newly engaged Pat and Chris. Kyle’s mission/obsession quickly becomes to discover Pat’s sex. It has overtaken his entire life, even going to the extreme lengths of hacking Pat’s computer diary for clues by trying every single word in the dictionary as a possible password. When Kyle finally discovers the contents of the diary, he has gone completely mad.

Meanwhile, Pat has become a semi-celebrity due to the airing of his drunken engagement party karaoke performance of “Le Freak” on America’s Creepiest People.  Even the immaculately insane Camille Paglia chimes in her two cents. Which of course has gone to Pat’s head. Chris has finally gotten savvy to Pat’s horrible ways and can’t stand for them; Pat has a lot of growing up to do. But doesn’t seem to realize it. Yet.

It starts with a confrontation from a group of street thugs. Throughout the film, Pat is repeatedly asking “who am I? What am I?” always to no avail. But when the gang asks him point blank, “Are you a man or are you a woman?” it sends Pat (briefly) inward to address the most basic human label we have. But it’s not until he is shown naked in front of thousands of people (while leaving it a mystery to the audience) that there is finally an epiphany: Pat realizes that his/her foolish quests for fame and fortune were nothing compared to the love of another person. And to the sounds of Gladys Knight, Pat runs after Chris. But will it be too late?

Bernstein uses a few classic film references in his storytelling, most obviously the hall of mirrors sequence from The Lady from Shanghai. But there is also a famous shot from Persona – combining Kyle and Pat’s face into one – as well as the chase trope, used in everything from Manhattan to Sleepless in Seattle. But I found its closest relative in The Bank Dick. W.C. Fields as Egbert Souse has a series of comedic (mis)adventures from drinking with Shemp Howard to directing a film to floundering as a night watchman at a bank; he is America’s favorite curmudgeonly EveryMan. Pat Riley goes from mail carrier to sushi chef to reality star to radio talk show host to playing with the Ween!; Pat is an EveryMan/Woman for the ’90s, lost in the modern-day quagmire of too many possibilities and not enough self-awareness. And Julia Sweeney is absolutely glorious in the role.

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Somehow this film has a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s Pat even scored five Razzie nominations, but “lost” all of them to Showgirls. It completely tanked at the box office, making $60,822, and is listed as one of the worst 100 movies of all time on imdb. Which is a damn shame. It is not only consistently funny, but moving. It’s Pat, which could be an offensive slide into defining sexuality in rigid ways, turns into a vindication of pansexual expression. Notice the way Kyle falls in love with Pat without knowing Pat’s gender; it is immaterial to him. And yes, most everyone hates Pat, but this has nothing to do with his/her androgyny; it has to do with Pat being an obnoxious social pariah who seems to be put on this earth to annoy and frustrate others with his/her tunnel vision existence. Sweeney and her fellow writers were smart in shifting the focus from sexual identity to human identity. Yes, we are curious about Pat’s gender, but we care more – and relate more – to the struggle to find ourselves: what we want, how we are going to get it, and who will be along for the ride?

Is It’s Pat a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, Berkley, or Kardashian?

***KARDASHIAN***
(Although I would say it most resembles Robert because he is dead and can no longer offend us with his existence; and I LOVE LOVE LOVE this movie and defending It’s Pat for some people could be as egregious as defending O.J. Simpson…)

What are your thoughts on It’s Pat?!

Bad Cinema: Another Gay Movie (Dir: Todd Stephens, 2006)

“What I want is a decent older gentleman who can fuck all night and then discuss the filmography of Shelley Winters in the morning.”

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I hesitate to even include this in Bad Cinema. I began this column as an homage to films like Showgirls, films so terrible, yet so accidentally enjoyable. Through the weeks though, I found myself watching movies that were just terrible and subjecting my loyal readers to wastes of celluloid without a second of redemption. But then last week, with the addition of Ernest Goes to Jail to the pantheon, Bad Cinema began to irrevocably shift into Guilty Pleasure Land, which I have come to coin as a “Kardashian,” a film that is terrible, knows it, and revels in its own awfulness.

A lot of gay movies are, let’s be honest, trash. Very rarely do they net the requisite budget from a major to pump in great production values or a top notch cast (unless they know they can get Oscar nominations by having straight people go gay for pay) or the obligatory PR machine to Milk what never seems to be enough money from an underachieving, bottom dwelling public (not even if you are Steven Soderbergh, apparently…).

So how surprised I was to tune into this low rent farce and stare, slap, and guffah (so loudly my neighbor had to tell us to keep it down) my way through its lightning fast 93 minutes.

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Andy, Griff, Nico, and Jarred are high school seniors looking to score. They make a pact that before they all go away to college, they will lose their V; as tops, of course. We learn this last bit of information after seeing Andy fantasize about getting bent over by Graham Norton and caught by his Mother (played by Lypsinka) shoving condom covered vegetables up his ass. It was at this point Julian, Joe, and I decided to make Another Gay Movie a drinking game.

Rules of Play: 

Take a drink when…

1) Someone is caught in a sexual situation
2) There is a scene with a drag queen
3) A straight person does something gay

Take a hit when…

1) There is a cameo by a D-List celebrity

Needless to say, we were kicked ten minutes in.

And yet, watching it again, sober, it still remains ridiculously hilarious. And arousing. The boys – OK, the men pretending to be boys – are insanely cute and their antics are well…

When enemas go awry.

When enemas go awry.

And this…

Or gerbils.

Or gerbils.

And…

#worstdateever

Or…

I’m sorry, what was I talking about? Oh, yes. The plot.

Oh, in case you can’t tell from the photo above, he vomitted on his back.

I am trying to tell you about the plot. But it is so distracting with all of the nudity and sweeping bangs. OK. Well, it’s really just American Pie with gay boys. Everything revolves around fucking. Even down to the dick in the apple pie. Or the quiche (according to the film, it’s what fingering feels like. I have never had my fingers in a quiche so I will just have to take the film’s word). Of course, by the end they all have sex, which is almost beside the point. They all have something more. Friendship. Togetherness. And Love. And rock hard abs.

Stephens infuses Another Gay Movie with a great sense of timing, fabulously kitschy dialogue, and gay winks from NAMBLA to Mommie Dearest. But my favorite thing about the film is the way it treats homosexuality from the very first scene as a normal, valid life, fully accepted by parents, teachers, and society; a film “way past coming out.” It reminds me of a much better version of Zanna, Don’t! an Off-Broadway musical that takes place in an all gay universe where two high school football players fall in love.

So much of our media revolves around the trials and tribulations of being gay and the turmoil it causes. Another Gay Movie, without disrespecting the thousands of kids who still have it rough, moves us past the point of shame and looks at us like every other teenage boy: at odds with our parents, clinging to our friends, and obsessed with sex.

Co-starring an out of control Ashlie Atkinson as Muffler, their crass sexoholic lesbian hag.

Is Another Gay Movie a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, Berkley, or Kardashian?

Again, I just don’t know! To call Another Gay Movie a “bad” movie would be to call Pink Flamingos or anything else that calls itself camp a “bad” movie. Is the filmmaking shoddy? Yes. Is the sound quality amateurish? Definitely. But are the actors werking? Fucking yes. Is the dialogue great? Absolutely. I don’t even know if I would call this a “guilty pleasure”. Perhaps if I were straight I would feel embarrassed to love this movie. But Another Gay Movie is a riotous great time. I will stop short of calling it as fun-da-mental as The Golden Girls, drag, or The Boys in the Band, but somewhere between Weekend and threesomes, I hope Another Gay Movie finds its rightful place in our history.

*Available on HuluPlus

Bad Cinema: Hello Again (Dir: Frank Perry, 1987)

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Once upon a time, in the magical land of the ’80s, there lived a princess named Shelley Long. Shelley was an actress. A very funny woman who always played the stuck up sophisticate to perfection. You may remember her as Diane Chambers from Cheers, the snobby bitch who wasn’t worthy of shining Sam Malone’s kleets, yet somehow became America’s sweetheart. Or from Outrageous Fortune, where she played the stuck up ballet dancer competing with Bette Midler for the affections of Peter Coyote. Or in her greatest role, Phyllis Neffler, the Beverly Hills housewife who rolls up her mink and changes the lives of a gang of misfit girl scouts in Troop Beverly Hills. Then, save her famous turn as Carol Brady in a series of Brady Bunch movies, Shelley Long practically disappeared from sight. Nowadays, she occasionally shows up in guest spots on hit TV shows, but for the most part, she can be seen in straight to DVD films and Hallmark MOWs. No one really knows why, but, hopefully, one day she will return to the limelight where she belongs.

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During her heyday, Shelley starred in a piece of camp trash called Hello Again. In it, she plays Lucy Chadman, the mousy housewife of an up and coming plastic surgeon. From the first close-up shot of her sans make-uped face, we know Shelley is leaving her chiffon in the closet – that and the didactic dialogue in the car ride to a swanky party to let us know how she doesn’t “fit in”. While rubbing elbows with the New York elite (on the same block where Woody and Diane shot the iconic poster of Manhattan), Lucy embarrasses herself repeatedly (it’s funnier if you don’t prematurely know how…). Her only refuge from these blue bloods is her old college chum, Kim (Sela Ward at her most sexy). She is on the look out for a new, old husband since her last one died and left her nothing. But even though Jason, long ago, chose Lucy over her, Kim decides to help Lucy fit in with the aristocrats and help her “keep Jason” as he moves up the ladder by trying to get her glam. But Lucy’s eccentric sorceress sister Zelda (played to the hilt by the amazing Judith Ivey) isn’t fooled quite that easily.

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After her make-over, Lucy runs to Zelda to show off her newest look (a cross between Judy Jetson and a New Year’s Eve party favor). And trouble is afoot! Lucy’s aura is purple. Something is going to happen. And does. Lucy chokes on a chicken ball and drops dead.

Then a year to the day later, Zelda, with a spell she found in an old book, brings her back to life much to everyone’s confusion. Especially Lucy’s. Jason has married Kim, her favorite park has been torn down, and she still has the same awful hair. (Seriously, Shelley. This was never a good look for you)

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But Gabriel Byrne is to the rescue. He is the doctor who tried to save her life and is now taking her on a Back From the Dead tour (as well as macking with a You May Be Resurrected, But You are Still Hot swag). But the story quickly becomes old news. Especially after Kim, fearful of losing Jason, starts a rumor that Lucy is full of it. And Lucy, to gain some peace, corroborates it. Of course, the brand new nursery they were building her in the hospital as a publicity Thank You is shelved. And those pesky tabloids are dragging her name through the mud. Oh, well. At least Gabriel knows the truth.

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But being a social pariah is not the way to live. And she was dead! Why cave to Kim’s insecurity? So Lucy, Zelda, and Kim’s ex-stepson Hastings (Austin Pendleton) concoct a plot to expose Kim’s shenanigans with a fake, public seance. They do, she is, and they all live happily ever after. Well, everyone except Kim.

With a premise this outrageous, Hello Again could have played for big laughs and gone for broke. But it holds back. Which is understandable. The last time director Frank Perry threw all the cards on the table he was lambasted; Perry directed Mommie Dearest, y’all – a much better film than it gets credit for with Faye Dunaway turning in perhaps the best work of her career. Hello Again is definitely light fair, but Shelley proves her physical comedy chops. Which makes us miss them even more.

Bad Cinema: Ernest Goes to Jail (Dir: John Cherry, 1990)

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Ernest P. Worrell began as a pitchman for innumerable products on local syndicates. The commercials always found him trying to sell something to his off screen, cantankerous neighbor Vern before getting into some kind of dangerous situation, ending in a pratfall or some other piece of physical comedy. Jim Varney – the man who portrayed him through hundreds of ads, a TV series, and in over half a dozen films – was a wonderful actor. He imbued Ernest with the requisite obnoxiousness of a nosy busybody, the heart of a hero, the misguided hubris of a douche, and the cartoonish pathos worthy of the silent clowns; Jim Varney as Ernest P. Worrell was the poor man’s Buster Keaton.

Ernest is the night janitor at a bank. He desperately wants to be a bank clerk to better himself (and to get the girl who only sees him as a friend). But Mr. Pendlesmith is having none of it; Ernest is a chronic screw up and cannot be trusted. But that doesn’t stop Mr. Pendlesmith from keeping Ernest’s friends Chuck and Bobby employed as the night security guards (if you think Ernest is clueless…).

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Nor does that keep Charlotte from pushing her boss to give Ernest another chance (evidently without fear of sullying her own name) and encouraging Ernest to “better himself,” which really just boils down to her repeatedly chanting, “You have to be more careful!” It’s not surprising how out of touch she is with Ernest’s handicaps. She doesn’t even realize that Ernest has a mad crush on her. Talk about clueless.

And then the best thing that has ever happened to anyone happens to Mr. Ernest P. Worrell. No, it’s not a job promotion. No, it’s not Charlotte’s instantaneous affection. It’s Jury Duty! The dream of every American. (Seriously, though. How have I not been chosen for Jury Duty? I am starting to think it is intentional…) But Ernest better watch his back. Because the man being prosecuted just so happens to be the henchman for Mr. Nash, a notorious gang leader and murderer…who is a dead ringer for Ernest (of course played by Varney, in a very creepy 180). Before he can even say “KnowhatImean?”, Ernest and Mr. Nash are switched during a field trip to the prison.

Ernest takes being in jail with his signature stride, the Everyman taking it on the chin for us all with a joke and an uncomfortable laugh. He makes friends with his cellmate and stays upbeat for his release. Mr. Nash as Ernest begins plotting his robbery of the bank and his seduction of the girl. Of course, Ernest escapes (using a very clever running gag, executed in the golden comedy rule of 3), saves the day, and saves the girl (although, in typical Chaplin fashion, does not ride off into the sunset with her).

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In a series of mediocre, cinematic guilty pleasures, Ernest Goes to Jail stands above the crowd for its pacing. Many “bad” movies become “unbearable” because they try and milk every single last drop out of what was once potentially funny until it is dryer than the Octomom’s tired breasts. (Watch any skit on SNL or any film by the Wayans Bros. for visual aides). Jail, the fourth film by John Cherry to feature Varney/Ernest, finds the perfect balance of sophomoric lunacy and rudimentary mis-en-scene to create a thoroughly enjoyable piece of delicious trash (something that cannot be said for Ernest Scared Stupid, despite the presence of the immaculate Eartha Kitt…)

Is Ernest Goes to Jail a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, or Berkley?
NONE OF THE ABOVE!
Henceforth, I am introducing a new category: KARDASHIAN

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What are your thoughts on Ernest Goes to Jail and the Ernest franchise?