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out of 4 Movie Review: Screwed

Starring: Norm MacDonald, Danny Devito
Director: Scott Alexander
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 81 Minutes
Release Date: May 2000
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Dave Chappelle, Elaine Strich, Sarah Silverman

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Some movie buffs say that despite varied genres that well- known directors use during their careers, you should be able to tell who is at the helm of their movies. The personalities show through. I wonder how these fans could explain how "Screwed" is any way the product of not only the same directors but the same writers as "The People vs. Larry Flynt" and "Man on the Moon"and "Ed Wood." After knocking out three quality films, each with subtle comedy and trenchant satire, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski must have taken a bet that they couldn't emulate Groucho and Harpo-- sort of like those assignments we had to write in college literature classes "in the style of Hemingway" or "in the manner of Faulkner." Karaszewski and Alexander would have come out on the screwed side of that wager, because their latest effort--utilizing a principal character who was fired from Saturday Night Live because he was unfunny--proves that the TV hatchet-people were correct in their decision.

But maybe we should not blame all on Norm Macdonald who as Willard Fillmore, a chauffeur in the employ of a harridan that Karl Marx and Bert Brecht might have used as a model of the injustices inherent in the final stages of capitalism. The pathetic riff on the name of a former U.S. president--which Alexander and Karaszewski used for another character named Grover Cleaver--is not only inept but baffling. How does the U.S. presidency relate in any way to those two losers? (Don't answer that question.)

In this buddy-caper burlesque, Willard, a chauffeur is exploited by his boss, the millionaire septuagenarian Virginia Crock (Elaine Stritch), who owns an Entenmann's-like cake factory and appropriately names her little brown Pomeranian dog Muffin (Bam Bam). Willard is the only servant in the Crock mansion, washing the carpets while in his cutaway attire, driving the car, and fetching the madam's clothing from her capacious closet. Willard gets together with his best pal, Rusty (David Chappelle), who runs a small fried chicken emporium, and together they kidnap Muffin. Somehow Virginia, her special adviser Chip, and later the general public, all believe that the chauffeur, and not the dog, is the kidnap victim--which is fine by Willard and Rusty who cool their heels waiting for the delivery of $5 million ransom.

While NY Times critic Stephen Holden considers Danny DeVito as undertaker Grover to be the only successful cast member "who succeeds in making something out of the movie's nothing of a screenplay," it looks more as though DeVito is willing to embarrass himself for a little extra cash. A fan of the TV program "Hawaii-Five-O" who knows every bit of Jack Lord's dialogue in much the way that the stockbrokers of "Boiler Room" could have understudied Michael Douglas in "Wall Street," DeVito is styled like a mad scientist obsessed with collecting the innards of corpses. He is offered a large payment for finding a body resembling Willard's and placing the chauffeur's I.D. on the cadaver.

If Norm Macdonald did not employ a poker-faced countenance throughout this dud he would have revealed little besides embarrassment for going through the ungainly lines afforded him by the two previously dexterous writers. The comedy throughout "Screwed" is as luscious as a cake baked in honor of Virginia's Crock's thirtieth birthday.

Rated PG-13. Running time: 90 minutes. (C) 2000 by Harvey Karten,

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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