Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '96 - Peter Salomone ""

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Underrated '96 - Peter Salomone

Peter Salomone is a freelance video editor and comedy writer in the northeast U.S. He can be found on Twitter @pscottsalo. Peter's latest endeavor, The Walk of Life Project, hypothesizes that “Walk of Life” by Dire Straits is the perfect song to any movie. Check it out at

Adrenalin: Fear the Rush
All you need in order to make a good movie are Christopher Lambert, Natasha Henstridge, and a superhuman monster. I’m not positive but I believe Ingmar Bergman said that… Or maybe Albert Pyun said it, repeatedly, into a mirror, between setups on the set of Adrenaline: Fear the Rush. Well, whoever it was who said it was wrong. "Released” in theaters in November 1996, A:FtR found a comfy home on cable TV in subsequent years. Albert Pyun also directed the infamous 1990 Captain America movie and lots of other direct-to-video sci-fi/horror stuff. Look, this is a bad movie but kind of a fun watch. Maybe part of the problem is that - according to the good ol’ IMDB trivia - it was reshot by the order of the Weinsteins and the setting was moved from Romania to Boston. Easy switch, right?

The Cable Guy
The Cable Guy was certainly underrated when it was released - a victim of very particular expectations set by Jim Carrey’s fame at the time. Carrey gives a great performance but The Cable Guy really is more a Ben Stiller movie. It fits right into Stiller’s early work as a director, satirizing the cable media landscape. Plus, everyone in the main cast of The Ben Stiller Show has a small role. Stiller himself is very funny as a (fictional) washed-up celebrity on trial for murder in a background subplot that mimics the OJ Simpson trial. I just love the tone of this movie. The absurdity ratchets up with each scene. By the time it reaches its bizarre (and violent) climax, The Cable Guy has become as detached from reality as the title character.

When I was a kid I rented this Sylvester Stallone survival flick from my local Blockbuster Video. I was thrilled that the VHS contained "10 MINUTES OF EXCLUSIVE BEHIND-THE-SCENES FOOTAGE!” Special features were pretty rare on VHS, so this was a big deal for a young film geek. (And yes, I feel very old reminiscing about one home video format while the format that replaced it is currently on its way out.) Anyway, this is a decent B-movie with a unique setup: a group of people are trapped inside a collapsed tunnel in NYC and only disgraced EMT Kit Latura (Stallone) can save them. It’s got lots of cool explosions and cool set design.

Albert Brooks is my favorite filmmaker but it took my a while to warm up to this one. Maybe because it’s such a small, subtle movie. It’s basically a two-person show with Brooks’s typical neuroses bouncing off Debbie Reynolds’s sunny performance as the doting but condescending Mrs. Henderson. Reynolds had not had such a showcase in some time and she’s terrific. Plus there’s some nerdy fun to be had from Brooks’s character’s profession: science fiction writer.

Mr. Wrong
So here’s a romantic comedy directed by the guy who played Michael Myers in Halloween. They don’t make 'em like this anymore. I miss you, Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures. You were like the weird kink dungeon in the basement of the white picket fence home of Disney. Okay maybe not that extreme but consider this: Mr. Wrong is a comedy about a woman (Ellen DeGeneres) who is tormented by a weird admirer (Bill Pullman) and his unhinged ex-girlfirend (Joan Cusack, playing to rafters). And it has a scene in which Cusack tries to murder someone with fire ants. I’ve always liked Ellen. Even though she’s kind of a brand now, she reminds me of David Letterman (who had her on his show often) - sarcastic but affable. A romcom starring Ellen is kind of what I imagine a romcom starring Letterman would be like. Dark, awkward, absurd, and weirdly charming.

The Phantom
The story goes that Joe Dante and Bruce Campbell were going to make this, which would have been amazing. It was conceived as more of a tongue-in-cheek thing with a script by Jeffrey Boam, who wrote Dante’s Innerspace and worked on The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr. with Campbell. That version fell apart and the studio hired different people but kept the same script and filmed it sincerely even though it was supposed to have a sillier tone. I didn’t know that back in 1996 and it probably wouldn’t have mattered to me at the time. I loved this movie right down to the lenticular clamshell VHS case. It’s still campy fun even without Dante and Campbell.

Rolling Stones Rock N Roll Circus
I’m cheating a bit here but technically this was a 1996 release (or re-release, at least). It’s one of my dad’s favorites and I can’t disagree with him. Rock N Roll Circus is a 1968 TV special hosted by the Rolling Stones, featuring a great variety of musical acts and very, uh, 60s production design. However, the special was basically buried until 1996 because the Stones thought they were upstaged by The Who (performing A Quick One While He’s Away, which should be familiar to Rushmore fans). In this case, The Stones were upstaged by The Who, but that’s okay - one could argue that they were all upstaged by Taj Mahal.

Sgt. Bilko
There’s a 1999 British documentary about Steve Martin called Seriously Funny in which he kind of looks back on Sgt. Bilko as his bottoming out. That’s pretty ridiculous considering the garbage he’s made in the 00s. Compared to that stuff Sgt. Bilko is a masterpiece. Even on its own, though, I think it’s pretty underrated. I’ve never seen the original show so I can’t compare him to Phil Silvers but Martin is very funny in the title role. Plus, the late, great Phil Hartman is perfect as Bilko’s nemesis. This was written by Andy Breckman, who started on Late Night with David Letterman and went on to create the show Monk. It’s got a classic comedy sensibility with tightly-constructed gags and setpieces. There’s an energetic sequence about a fixed boxing match that still gets me.

1 comment:

beamish13 said...

I thought I was the only one who unashamedly enjoyed MR. WRONG! Pullman outside of DeGeneres' bedroom window is unforgettable. From one-half of the writing team behind the BILL & TED films, too