It is Hollywood after dark. Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger is all alone without his Prada loafers—and there's no Raw Foods restaurant in sight.
Our reviews of The Film Crew: Killers From Space (published August 7th, 2007), The Film Crew: The Giant Of Marathon (published October 26th, 2007), and The Film Crew: Wild Women Of Wongo (published September 11th, 2007) are also available.
"All I need is a water pump."—sung to the tune of "All I Need is a Miracle" by Mike & The Mechanics
If you recognize the names Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, then you'll be interested in this reunion effort. Otherwise known as Mike, Tom Servo, and Crow T. Robot, these cads wrote and gave voice to the funniest film criticism show in history, Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The show's cancellation in 1999 left many broken hearts in its wake. Mystery Science Theater 3000 was popular because of chemistry and its goofy sense of humor. For many fans, the non-movie segments with Mike and the 'bots palling around on the Satellite of Love were as funny as their cinematic dissections. But scathing critiques were Mystery Science Theater 3000's bread and butter. The offbeat mixture of live-action interludes, sharp wit, and surreal B-movie vibe created a unique chemistry. Why bore you with stories of my own fandom when pictures of this movie night bolt-on I crafted out of light-absorbing felt should suffice?
Fast-forward eight years and the trio has launched a new venture called The Film Crew. Like MST3K, it features a mixture of live-action setup, forced movie watching, and snappy, pop-culture-infused criticism. The minds of Nelson, Murphy, and Corbett are still razor sharp; if their dissection of Hollywood After Dark is any indication, scathing critiques are the highlight of the new menu as well as the old.
The Film Crew is at once familiar and different. MST3K's delicate chemistry has been debated ad-nauseum: Mike vs. Joel, Crow 1 vs. Crow 2. The fellas are now playing fellas and not robots/master stuck on a spaceship. Their interplay is subtly different, perhaps from a shift in power inequities. But none of this matters: they still have it. Like any given MST3K episode, it takes them a few minutes to get into a groove, but once they do it's lights out. I nearly grew hoarse from laughter as they picked apart this jaw-droppingly bad movie (previously reviewed here by Bill Gibron). Freed from network television constraints, the subject matter is more mature—as are the barbs. Be warned: You will see Rue's McClanahans. There will be uncomfortable stretches of bad stripping. And you'll be stuck right next to the guys and share their awkward silence. The tradeoff, of course, is that they can present a harder edge and be less oblique with their observations.
Because the minds and voices are the same, the witticisms are too. When the movie presents obvious targets, they do little more than point out the obvious and run with it. They get lots of mileage out of singing phrases from the movie to the tune of other songs; when an elderly gay man comes to the hero's junk shop and says "All I need is a water pump," a familiar tune by Mike & The Mechanics quickly follows. I just about peed when Bill Corbett (I think, it's all a blur) said something about swimming to Bea Arthur's house because he "heard she puts out," in contrast to the staid Rue McClanahan, who merely strips. There is much fodder, and these experienced marksmen make the most of their targets. Naturally, many references flew over my head, but that's part of the gig.
Getting to those observations is not as fun as it was in the MST3K days. The setup is a riff on Charlie's Angels wherein a disembodied voice gives them a mission from a '70s-era loudspeaker. Clad in matching janitorial outfits, the trio's job is to provide commentary for all movies, regardless of artistic merit. Maybe I miss the zany robots, or maybe the guys aren't as into the live-action segments, but the segments aren't that funny. It has an ironic spin on working for a living, but lacks the incisive observations that make such efforts work. When Lunch Break comes up and they have a brainstorming session with a whiteboard, I checked my watch and thought about grabbing lunch myself. The movie soon returned and everything was good again.
The extra feature "Ode to Lunch" is an even more surreal foray into this "film critic as working stiff" satire. It is what it sounds like: a glorification of the midday meal couched in flowery prose. It was worth watching once just to see them experiment with this new direction.
These are petty observations, of course; no series emerges fully formed from its first episode (well, with the possible exception of CHiPS). With time, The Film Crew's new chemistry will emerge. The important thing is that Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett deliver the goods against a movie that demands their harsh discipline. Hollywood After Dark is worthy of any blow, no matter how low. With a little more overhead granted by the mature subject matter, this seasoned trio has more working room. I'm looking forward to seeing more of Shout! Factory's DVD spin on their patented chemistry.
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