"Tonight, we will ignite, a flaming pyre of costly trite delights…"—Three Times One Minus One, "The Greatest Love in History"
Meet Ronwell Quincy Dobbs (David Cross), the whitest, trashiest denizen of Doraville, a real "Southern gentleman" who "ain't nothin' but trouble" to his neighbors. You see, Ronnie has a little problem. Or maybe it is more of a calling. He has an uncanny ability to draw cops and cameras to his wild, drunken stunts.
When failed infomercial inventor Terry Twillstein (Bob Odenkirk) spots Ronnie's one night on the popular television reality show Fuzz, it is love at first sight. Love of ratings, that is—or so we hope, since Terry is an awfully fey little British twerp. Anyway, he has a plan for making our boy Ronnie a star: take him all over the country where he can get arrested by a different police force every week.
But will Ronnie's stardom go to his head? Will he ever marry (again, for the fourth time) his sweetheart Tammy (Jill Talley), mother of his three kids? Is there enough cheap beer in the world to fill the hole in poor Ronnie's heart?
Well, we waited a long time for this one. Run Ronnie Run, the first feature from the crew who brought us the brilliant and woefully underappreciated Mr. Show. New Line kept this in a vault for years, hoping we would forget about it. They edited the hell out of it, shoved it right back into the vault, and told us it would stay in there until it shriveled into a pale and half-blind creature, gibbering madly about its "precious."
It stayed there so long that Bob and David have disowned it. Here are their thoughts, right from their website: "While it definitely has some very funny moments, the current cut of the movie that is out there being screened and traded on the internet, just isn't that good." How do I argue with that? The truth, sad as it is, is pretty much that: Run Ronnie Run would have been a solid debut feature for anybody else, but for Bob and David, it is a relative disappointment.
Ah, where did it all go wrong? Maybe it all starts with Ronnie Dobbs. While a funny character in his original form, on Mr. Show (where he was featured in sketches in both seasons 1 and 3), he has a hard time holding up for 90 minutes. The film makes an effort to humanize his misogynistic, drunken, white trash shtick to the point where it is hard to tell anymore whether it wants us to root for him or not. Odenkirk's Terry Twillstein fares even worse. As straight man (so to speak) for Ronnie's antics, Terry just comes across as pathetic, too weak to carry any scenes on his own. Terry was a weak character in the original "Fuzz the Musical" sketch from the show, and the screenplay here does very little to punch him up in order to round out this cinematic odd couple.
The film has its share of inspired moments: Patrick Warburton as the head of the international gay conspiracy, white hip-hop wannabes Three Times One Minus One's trashy music video, Mandy Patinkin playing Ronnie in a Broadway musical. But it takes a lot of waiting and plot exposition to get to these. Even a ton of funny cameos by people like Garry Shandling, Ben Stiller, Andy Richter, various Kids in the Hall, and Jeff Goldblum cannot help counter the feeling of listlessness. Even a vicious parody of Mary Poppins by Jack Black strains harder than it should to be funny.
Run Ronnie Run suffers from two clear problems. First, lampooning reality television seems a bit redundant: the genre has long passed the point of self-parody. Second, the pacing and structure of the film is dulled by the use of Ronnie's friend Clay (David Koechner) as the narrator. Not only does Clay have little insightful or funny to say, but it makes things that much harder when the film feels the urge to swing off into a tangential sketch.
I keep talking here like Run Ronnie Run is a bad movie. It is not. It is quite funny in parts and holds up better than some other attempts by sketch troupes to make the transition to the big screen. For instance, Brain Candy by the Kids in the Hall seems less and less interesting every time I see parts of it. Don't even get me started on movies made from Saturday Night Live characters. It is rough trying to stretch a 10-minute sketch out to feature length, and it seems a general rule that the more successful sketch-troupe movies manage to sustain their momentum by steering away from the main plot often for random bits of lunacy. Take Wayne's World or any of Monty Python's theatrical efforts. Life of Brian may be the best sketch-troupe film ever made because it deftly balances a sympathetic central character with a consistent set of well-constructed individual sketches. Any given sketch works as a discrete package, but everything hangs together on the central conceit (Brian's life, in case you were not paying attention).
Most unsuccessful attempts at this type of film lean too much on one side of this equation: either too much character arc, or too many sketches without a strong central character. Run Ronnie Run tends toward the former: too much Ronnie, not enough Bob and David. Thus, the film drags when it should soar.
Maybe Bob and David just played it too conservatively their first time out, taking fewer risks in order to appeal to a wider audience, sort of like when the crew of Mystery Science Theater 3000 picked This Island Earth to make their theatrical debut. In one deleted scene included on the DVD, Bob and David step out of character for a moment in the middle of a scene to complain to each other about the movie they are making. The scene as it plays in the finished version is funny enough, but the deleted version is clearly riskier and plays on more levels.
Run Ronnie Run is good enough, certainly compared to the so-called "comedies" that fill the theaters every day, to have deserved better than it got in the hands of New Line. How did this get shelved, and director Troy Miller's next picture, Dumb and Dumberer, get released on 2600 screens? That is just insane. This is a film that could have done moderately well from word of mouth (especially if booked in college towns) and is certainly no embarrassment to New Line. This is hardly the sort of crap you usually associate with "direct to video" releases. And New Line does an acceptable job with the anamorphic transfer and the choice of 5.1 or 2.0 audio, even if their hearts are clearly not in it. Extras are thin: the aforementioned deleted scenes, a very short version of the Three Times Three Minus One Video (featuring a twisted parody of Cinderella with a skanky hooker), and a trailer. But I suppose under the circumstances, a Bob and David commentary track would have been out of the question.
Bob and David suggest you give it a pass, but I am going to recommend Run Ronnie Run as a rental. Take the rest of your money and buy yourself the Mr. Show television collections from HBO. You will get far more bang for your buck. You will probably like Run Ronnie Run, but not love it. And maybe a little support (but not enough to make the studio feel justified in slicing up this movie) will encourage some studio to back the boys when they try to make a film of their "Hooray for America" stage show.
Given that many of their television sketch troupe (Tom Kenny, Sarah Silverman, and especially Jack Black) have gone on to bigger things, it is criminal that Bob and David are still relegated to late-night talk show bits and the comedy festival circuit. So I take back what I said. Buy two copies of Run Ronnie Run. By half a dozen and give them out as Christmas gifts. Maybe if this movie is a hit on DVD, these guys will get to quit their night jobs polishing bowling shoes and go back to full time funny business.
I mean, jeez, isn't it time they moved out of my garage?
New Line executives are ordered by the court to be tied up in a room and subjected to Dumb and Dumberer, until blood comes out of their ears. Bob and David are instructed to get back to work on their next project. Do it now, before we send someone to hurt you.
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