Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Screwed

By Marjorie Baumgarten

MAY 22, 2000: 

D: Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski; with Norm Macdonald, Dave Chappelle, Elaine Stritch, Daniel Benzali, Sherman Hemsley, Danny DeVito, Sarah Silverman. (PG-13, 90 min.)

"Stop. Don't shoot. They're stupid and confused," yells a character (it doesn't matter which one) toward the climax of Screwed. A meta-commentary expressing belated misgivings about the greenlighting of this movie? I think not. Merely wishful thinking on the part of this viewer who found plenty of time to allow her thoughts to wander while missing none of the nonsensical action occurring simultaneously on the screen. Screwed aims to be a contemporary screwball comedy with a wacky internal logic that propels the action forward. Most of the time, however, the film's comedy falls like a thud in the path of forward progression, impeding laughter, believability, and sustained interest. What plot there is stems from the nutty chain of events that ensue when a browbeaten butler Willard Fillmore (Macdonald) stages a kidnapping in order to ransom millions from his harridan employer Miss Crock (Stritch) and flee the country. Few of the characters' actions make much sense because, as we've already established, these principals are "stupid" and "confused." Macdonald, although in possession of a biting satiric wit, has limited acting ability, as evidenced by his work on his sitcom and sketch comedy on SNL. It was smart to pair him in Screwed with Dave Chappelle, a skillful comic actor who can also handle a film's dramatic requirements. Yet, the two share no visible chemistry or comic balance. Thus, the film's comic chores fall to its notable hams: Elaine Stritch, Sherman Hemsley, and Danny DeVito. Only DeVito escapes this thing with a few moments of comic dignity intact. His demented mortician (and vice-president of the Jack Lord fan club), Grover Cleaver, is a creation who exists all on his own steam and inspiration. Screwed is the first directing project by the writing duo, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who have become the kings of the offbeat biopic, with such titles as Man on the Moon, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and Ed Wood to their credit. They also penned Screwed, and it must also be pointed out that Problem Child and its sequel also sprung from their imaginations. The pair is said to be currently at work on a biopic about the Marx Brothers, so that might be considered as the antic model these filmmakers were aspiring toward with Screwed. Let's just say that anyone who coughs up to see this comedy will find it aptly titled.

.5 Star

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