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Back By Midnight

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 01/27/05 11:16:56

"[Insert your own 'no respect' joke here.]"
1 stars (Sucks)

Talk about respect: how many people could get one to say, “Hey, I see that this movie stars Kirstie Alley as a kinky British woman with a pet monkey, and there’s Randy Quaid as some loudmouthed redneck, and that the rest of the cast includes comics that I wouldn’t care if I saw ‘em for free, but hey, it’s got Rodney Dangerfield, and even though his last few pictures have been gawdawful direct-to-video garbage, maybe I should give this one a spin anyway.”

That’s our Rodney, our memories of masterful comic touch far outlasting our memories of, say, “My 5 Wives,” “The 4th Tenor,” or “The Godson.” Or, for that matter, “Meet Wally Sparks” and “Ladybugs.” And now, “Back By Midnight,” featuring Dangerfield in one of his last screen performances, and the first to be released following his death in October. For a guy we love so dearly, he’s sure done a lot of crap. Why do we keep watching? Because he’s Rodney.

Meaning he’s once again the only good thing in an otherwise horrible movie. But even the fact that the screenplay, by director and longtime Dangerfield associate Harry Basil, is nothing but a thin string of plot onto which Rodney’s one-liners may hang is enough to salvage the project; the clunkiness at which each yuk gets tossed into the film leaves us wishing we were just watching Dangerfield on stage (which does happen at one point in the movie, by the way), and not some lamebrained low budget affair that doesn’t know what to do with Rodney’s material.

Dangerfield plays Jake Puloski, nice guy warden at a Texas prison. Everyone there loves him, and he’s willing to give everyone a break. (He’s also willing to throw out such groaners as: “In life, every man has his tale of woe. Unfortunately, in prison, there’s more woe than tail.” Hmm. Lines like these would’ve worked fine as a some stand-up act; as part of the narration, though, they sink like a stone in a kidney-shaped pool.) Anyway, when he’s stiffed on a request for upgrades by millionaire Eil Rockwood (Quaid), who operates the local prison system, Jake asks a handful of his best inmates to rob Rockwood’s chain of Wal-Mart-ish stores.

This sounds harmless enough, until you factor in: Alley’s atrocious attempt at a Brit accent; the scene in which Alley and Quaid get it on (eeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwww); the subplot that finds Harlan Williams playing a closeted sheriff; the appearance of a lovable sex offender nicknamed “Jerk Off” who’s obsessed with molesting farm animals; the scene in which Gilbert Gottfried reveals that his female dog is a bitch, with its long, painful pause for laughs over the word “bitch;” the many jokes that involve feeding Viagra to a dog; and the fact that the film’s other top cast members include Paul Rodriguez and Phil LaMarr. Sigh. “Back By Midnight” has to be the least funny excuse to hand out a few paychecks to comics who aren’t doing anything this week since the miserable “Evil Alien Conquerors.”

Sadly, this is not how I want to remember Rodney. I want fast-on-his-feet, ready-with-an-insult Rodney, not tired, unfunny Rodney spouting gags that weren’t any good five years ago (to a guy with large ears: “You look like a Mike Tyson buffet” - yikes, that’s lame). Worse, Basil’s non-Rodney scenes play as a parade of bad comedy (consider, if you will, a monkey peeing on Randy Quaid’s face, goofy music accompanying, and you’ll get the idea of how this film runs). This is a lousy movie in every regard, and even Dangerfield die-hards will have a hard time with it. It’ll only make you miss his glory days even more - watch “Back To School” for the umpteenth time instead.

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