Having It Both Ways

Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy

area theaters

The Last Supper

Lagoon Cinema, starts Friday

LOW-BROW TV spin-offs like Wayne's World and The Brady Bunch Movie make the perfect crossover product, appealing simultaneously to both dumb and dumber fans and pomo hipsters who view their irrelevance as an ironic joke. Thus having it both ways, these movies are beyond criticism: If they seem abundantly idiotic, wouldn't that be appropriate to their roots on the small screen? Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy, a feature-length expansion of the Canadian sketch troupe's Python-style TV series, is nothing if not self-aware, acknowledging the culture of low standards through its story of a Prozac-like drug that sweeps the nation by turning the addicted into indiscriminate consumers. The pharmaceutical company's ad-copy puts it like this: "Gleemonex makes you feel like it's 72 degrees in your head--all the time."

As in the somewhat transgressive Kids series, the all-male troupe here plays in drag as often as not, although the movie seems at once less unusual and more highly evolved than any of the episodes I've seen. Brain Candy's first scenes provide a hilariously concise parody of big-city angst: A subtitled German (Mark McKinney) confesses his existential trauma to a disinterested therapist (David Foley); a depressed grunge rocker (Bruce McCulloch) trudges onto the stage of the so-called Suicide Club; and a closeted suburban husband (Scott Thompson) nervously jerks off to a gay porno tape. Thank God for Gleemonex, which, as the cure-all brainchild of a nerdish scientist (Kevin McDonald) whose father killed himself, locates the user's happiest memory and freezes that sweet emotion indefinitely. "I feel like God's rubbing my tummy!" gushes one elderly woman patient (Thompson). On its way to becoming bigger than penicillin, the drug inspires the husband to break into a cul-de-sac song and dance routine called "I'm Gay!," and the grunge singer to trade his alternarock cred for Grammys via some cheesy Donovan-like ditties. Although sci-fi is never far from the film's compendium of genres, its satiric horror is that Gleemonex has created a zeitgeist frighteningly like ours.

The exec who green-lighted the pricey Brain Candy will probably be forced to pay penance, yet the Kids manage to make a joke of how inflated the production values are in this spin-off from a mere cult series. The dark urban dystopia sets invoke Batman, the evil corporate boardroom is straight out of The Hudsucker Proxy (so much so that the Coens could litigate), and some tacky digital FX allow the camera to follow a dose of Gleemonex down a patient's gullet and into his brain, at which point we're privy to the details of various "special moments": The gay porno-lover fondly remembers being berated by an Army drill sergeant, and a former flippy-chick flashes back on how she used to disco the night away to the beat of "Funkytown." As the entire populace begins turning into perpetually cheery vegetables, Brain Candy's anti-drug moral is that "You can't be happy all the time." Maybe, although the laid-back pace of the comedy--so stupid that it's funny, so funny that you feel stupid--suggests that the Kids might have been dropping some mood-altering stuff themselves.

The week's other comedy, The Last Supper, likewise has it both ways by portraying grotesque caricatures of political extremists for the simultaneous amusement of right- and left-wingers. The didactic story involves a group of smug liberal grad students from Iowa who decide to cold-bloodedly murder the conservative bigots who attend their weekly dinner parties. For the first guest, a truck driver and Gulf War vet (Bill Paxton), it's but a short step between "You gotta problem with patriotism?" and "Hitler had the right idea"--and then the grave. After half-accidentally stabbing the guy to death, the liberals justify their act to such an extent that they soon start inviting other guests--including a homophobic priest (Charles Durning) and a Limbaugh-like media celeb (Ron Perlman)--with the express purpose of doing away with them. The Last Supper ostensibly fulfills the liberal fantasy of getting even with hateful creeps; but by giving the right-wing characters all the "colorful" dialogue and turning the lefties into unsympathetic and bloodthirsty freaks, it turns into a Gen-X variant of Oleanna.

Since first-time director Stacy Title is so concerned with Big Ideas here, the five liberals are left more or less indistinguishable--except for a black radical student (Courtney B. Vance) who, wouldn't ya know, is shown to have the least remorse. How odd it is that the only identifiable character in this "political satire" is a police officer (Nora Dunn) who's without discernible politics; and that Michelangelo's painting, the one in which God and Adam touch fingers, is used to symbolize the need for liberal intellectuals to reach out and touch their enemies--the likes of gay-bashers and neo-Nazis.

 
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