Tom Arnold is Stupid. Stanley Stupid.
Released with little fanfare for a brief time in September 1996, The Stupids is actually better than its reputation suggests. It's a bright, sunny family comedy with broad appeal.
Facts of the Case
Convinced that someone is stealing his garbage, Stanley Stupid (Tom Arnold, Cradle 2 the Grave, Exit Wounds) chooses the mode of transportation with the most wheels and chases after a garbage truck. While wandering in a junkyard, he unwittingly stumbles upon a plot to sell high-tech weapons to foreign enemies.
Of course, Stanley isn't stupid for nothing. He manages to convince his family that the plot is the work of the evil Sender (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers), who "stole" people's mail to cause havoc throughout the world. Together, the Stupids gather together to stop Sender's evil plan and save the world.
As a young boy, I was a huge fan of The Stupids books. They were brightly drawn picture books featuring an extremely dumb family and their misadventures. My favorite of the series was The Stupids Die, in which the family mistakes a blackout for The End. Several years later, I was excited to learn that a movie was going to be made about my favorite stupid family. My hopes soared when I learned Tom Arnold was going to play patriarch Stanley Stupid. At the time, his performance in True Lies had surprised many, and he was on his way to becoming a good comic character actor. When John Landis signed on to direct, I really became excited. His often zany yet subtle sense of humor would fit The Stupids like a glove.
Then came: nothing. I do not even remember the film being released theatrically, although the Internet Movie Database lists a two-week run from September 1, 1996 to September 15, 1996. A VHS release was announced for December 1996, but none of my local stores carried it. Yes, folks. Apparently, fate predetermined that I would never see The Stupids. Damn that evil Sender!
Now, if I can get serious for a moment, let's discuss the film itself. Landis's film retains all of the qualities that made the books so much fun. Yes, it's silly. Yes, it's weird. But it's good, innocuous fun. And after the dozens of gross-out, vulgar comedies one sits through these days, I was in the mood for a comedy like The Stupids. There are a lot of sidesplitting laughs in this movie, all of an innocent nature. The PG rating for this film is insane. No vulgar words are muttered in this movie, and the violence is of an innocuous, simple manner. There are dozens of G-rated films that are more violent and intense than this sweet comedy. How the MPAA reaches their decisions will remain a mystery for all eternity.
The usual trademarks that populate John Landis films are present in The Stupids. Keep a sharp eye for the phrase See You Next Wednesday (a subtle homage to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey). Here's a hint: it's somewhere in the first third of the film. The other major Landis trademark is the cameo appearances by various fellow directors. Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, The Andromeda Strain) appears in a funny role as the Stupids' longsuffering next-door neighbor. David Cronenberg (The Brood, The Fly) appears as Stanley's former boss at the local post office. Keep an eye out for Gillo Pontecorvo (The Battle of Algiers), Norman Jewison (The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!), Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter), Gurunder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham), and Costa-Gavras (Z).
As I mentioned before, Tom Arnold is a good choice to play Stanley Stupid. Many people out there do not like him, but he is not without talent given the right material. Arnold knows this character is stupid, but he also knows that to make the role work, he has to play it straight. He does and earns many laughs.
New Line offers the viewer a choice of either full frame or a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. My advice is to stick with the widescreen version, since full frame is a bastardized concept to begin with. Anyway, New Line has done a fine job with the video transfer. It's nearly flawless, with no grain at any points and few film artifacts (scratches, specks, etcetera) to be found. Colors look unbelievably beautiful and bright, as a family entertainment should appear on disc. It's nice to see a studio actually do good work on a family picture when so many tend to load these discs with crappy transfers.
Audio is just as excellent. Both English tracks are offered in stereo, with your choice of either Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 surround. You will not have any serious problems with either track. Both will sound equally clear and crisp through any sound system.
The only extra feature is the original theatrical trailer, which reveals that The Stupids was intended for a June 1996 theatrical release. That is before the studio got cold feet. I do not understand why there isn't a commentary track from director John Landis. He is usually more than willing to discuss his own work and in an entertaining fashion to boot.
With a retail price of $14.99, I can recommend the disc as a blind buy for fans of the books or any families looking for good, solid entertainment. Casual viewers would do well to rent it instead. Don't pay any attention to the circumstantial evidence surrounding The Stupids. Trust me, this is a wonderful film that deserves better stature in the cinema world.
John Landis is cleared of all charges brought against him in this courtroom. In fact, I encourage him to work more often, even if on an independent basis.
New Line is cleared of all charges except skimping on extra content. For that, they are sentenced to take the same Extras 101 class to which I often sentence Disney and Artisan.
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