Everyone gets it in the end.
Sometimes I should know better. I should know better than to read reviews of a film before I have to review it myself. I read several very negative reviews for this wacky comedy Screwed, starring Norm MacDonald, Dave Chappelle, and Danny DeVito; reviews so scathing I was groaning even before I started the film. But despite my preconceptions I found plenty to laugh at in this over the top tale that never tries to be anything remotely resembling art. I may lose my film critic card over this, but I liked it; and Universal has done a nice job with the DVD, except in the extras department.
Facts of the Case
Willard Fillmore (get the presidential reference?) is a servant to a nasty old lady who treats him like a slave, just like his father before him. Norm MacDonald plays Willard, a loser who dreams of going "to one of them four year universities," but is tired of being mistreated. Along with his chicken-frying friend Rusty P. Hayes (there we go again with the presidents) they decide to hold the old shrew's dog for ransom. Things get far out of control as the dog escapes and the police think Willard is the real kidnap victim, leading ever farther over the top with ransoms paid or denied, people stealing the ransoms, and the police ineptly following the chase.
I admit that the film has weaknesses. I had some agreement with those same critics who blasted the film upon its theatrical release. The beginning was especially weak for me in the dialogue department. But as the film went on, as I sat expecting to dislike the rest, I found myself laughing. And laughing again. I was almost ashamed of myself as I laughed; but by the end of the film I realized that I actually liked it.
I realized later that one of the reasons I liked the movie is that one of my favorite comedies is Ruthless People, also starring Danny DeVito. There are parallels between the two films with the kidnappings of someone the person extorted from has no real desire to get back. There are some twists and quirks that also remind me of that admittedly better comedy, but still served to make me like this one.
The film has co-directors and screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, directing their first feature film. Both have ample writing experience, with such films as Man on the Moon, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and Ed Wood under their belts. These two have been working together since they were college roommates at USC Film School, and they really wanted to make an over the top comedy after doing biopics. They were also uncredited writers on Mars Attacks!, which gives them some chops in that area as well.
The cast is actually quite good; with Norm MacDonald and Dave Chappelle in the lead, veteran stage actress Elaine Stritch playing the old crone Miss Crock, Danny DeVito playing a most unsavory morgue examiner, and Sherman Hemsley as the slimy business partner. None of these folks are at their best here, but they each have their moments.
Universal has done their usual good job with picture and sound. It's starting to sound repetitive, but Universal has really joined the top tier of DVD producers with some great anamorphic transfers. As you would expect from a new film, there are no nicks, scars, or other defects that migrated from the source print to the digital realm. Colors are balanced, detail is sharp, and their aren't any artifacts or other problems worth noting. It's not one of those transfers that leave you with your jaw dropped from the beauty, but this is hardly the film setting to promote that. Likewise the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack has no flaws; it does exactly what this comedy demands of it. The sound is clear and detailed, dialogue is always understandable, and the directionality and use of the rear channels is rare but works when called for.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It is surprising how wooden some of the dialogue is, especially early on, considering the writing talents of Alexander and Karaszewski. Later in the film I understood where dialogue and expressions were over the top, as it was meant to be that way; and the final result has to be "Did you laugh?" The film starts with a promising premise but seems poorly implemented, then the plot takes twists that don't seem to carry through the premise. Still the answer to that final question is "Yes, I laughed."
I was surprised by the lack of extras on this day-and-date release from Universal. I'd thought they had a standard "Spotlight on Location" feature for every such release but there is none here. Likewise there is no commentary track. Some fairly substantial production notes, thorough cast and crew bios and filmographies, and a trailer are it. I know the film didn't gross much, and we are probably lucky to get any release at all, but I was surprised. One last mention; I'm not a fan of this latest case Universal is using; the six-tooth case with Kung-Fu Grip that unnecessarily bends the disc trying to remove it.
Will you be Screwed if you buy this disc? Some critics say yes. I have to give a brave and unmitigated maybe. I liked it, but I can see where some people wouldn't. So I have to say this is rental material. The lack of extra content and wacky nature of the film may turn off some so I won't go so far as to recommend purchase. Still, I'm glad I got to see a film I'd never have gone for if the disc hadn't been sent to me for review.
The makers and stars of Screwed are released; I think they have taken enough abuse at the hands of critics already. Universal is given a slap on the wrist for the lack of extras, but otherwise remanded to continuing the great job they normally do with their films on DVD.
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