Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Anchor Bay, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, standard 1.33:1, languages: English Digital Mono, subtitles: none, single side-dual layer, 24 chapters, rated R, 83 min., $24.98, street date 6/20/2000.
Directed by John Landis. Starring Marilyn Joi, Saul Kahan, David Zucker, marcy Goldman, Dulcie Jordan, Gracia Lee, Sheila Rogers, George Lazenby, Bill Bixby.
From the director of Animal House and the creators of Airplane and The Naked Gun, comes the original madcap, most out-of control spoof of all time. The one that started it all! The Kentucky Fried Movie!
Featuring a cast of more than a few but less than a lot, this insane collection of comedy skits includes such now famous sketches as the Kung-Fu parody, "A Fistful Of Yen", and the legendary "Catholic School Girls In Trouble." Enjoy the furture of moviegoing with the "Feel-A-Round" theater experience. See notable and highly respected actor Donald Sutherland as the clumsiest waiter in motion picture history. Watch such character as Cleopatra Schwartz and Big Jim Slade tickle your funny bone until it has to be removed surgically!
Directed by John Landis and written by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker , and Jerry Zucker, and featuring appearances by ex-James Bond, George Lazenby and The Incredible Hulk star Bill Bixby, The Kentucky Fried Movie is the cult classic you've been waiting for! It's a virtual guarantee (not an actual guarantee) that you will not find another film with as many side-splitting moments of pure unadulterated hilarity as The Kentucky Fried Movie.
Why do I almost never enjoy films created by brothers? There's the odd exception, like The Matrix from the Wachowski brothers, but the roster of other siblings who make movies I really don't like seems long: the Coens, the Farrellys, the Zuckers... Okay, that's not that long a list, but you get my point.
It's been a while since Jerry and David, the Zucker brothers, had anything that remotely smelled like a hit. 1994's Naked Gun 33 1/3 did respectably but became better known as O.J. Simpson's final movie; I actually saw it the night of the infamous Bronco chase, which I didn't know about until I got home from the film. Other than that, their "wacky" humor has not done much for critics or audiences in years.
Personally, I never much cared for their work, such as Airplane! or the Naked Gun films, with one notable exception; I absolutely adored 1986's Ruthless People, which I still regard as one of the funniest movies ever made. As I scan the Zucker resume, I discover the reason why that one exception exists: it's the only film of theirs that actually includes a strong cast.
As I've contended in other reviews, no genre depends more on the quality of the performers - and less on the script or the direction - than comedy. Bowfinger could have been a pretty tepid film, but Eddie Murphy's fantastic acting lifted the film to another level. Conversely, a weak cast will make even the best ideas fall flat. And when your film features neither a talented cast of actors or a bright and clever script, that's when you have a genuine dud on your hands.
That's where The Kentucky Fried Movie enters. To call this "cult classic" unfunny would be a serious understatement; during its 83 minutes, I never once even came close to cracking a smile, much less actually chortling. Much of the fault for this resides with the writers and directors, of course; when one takes into account the participation of the Zuckers, their frequent partner Jerry Abrahams, and director John Landis, that's a crew responsible for many, many more terrible movies than good ones.
Despite that factor, I still lay most of the blame on the largely drab and talentless cast. If you scan the credits, you'll find virtually no actors who went on to gain success in the business; this is a group of serious nobodies. Sure, we find such already-known luminaries as Donald Sutherland, Bill Bixby, George Lazenby and a couple of others, but absolutely no one in the cast who was not previously successful did anything significant after this. I find that nearly unfathomable that a film with such an enormous group of actors produced no one who ever made a name for themselves; just by luck of the draw there should have been at least one future star in the thing.
But that's not the case, and for good reason; the entire cast consists of stiffs. Good performers can take bland or bad material and make it at least somewhat entertaining, but when poor actors pitch weak material, the result is a disaster. Crap, thy name is The Kentucky Fried Movie, a painful excuse for a comedy that I hope to never see again.
(By the way, the press release that came with my copy of TKFM claims that it was the "impetus" for Saturday Night Live. Buh? SNL hit the airwaves in 1975 but TKFM didn't appear until 1977. I entertained the notion that perhaps TKFM was made prior to 1975 and was circulated via some sort of cheap copies but didn't formally come out until 1977, which would leave open the possibility that the forces behind SNL saw the early version of the movie and stole from it. However, I found no evidence to support this theory, and the self-same press release states that TKFM was filmed in 1977. As such, unless Nostradamus was the creator of SNL, there's no way it could have emanated from TKFM.
The Kentucky Fried Movie appears in both its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen edition on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the letterboxed image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen version was reviewed for this article. (You choose which version you want to see when the DVD starts; however, if you change your mind, return to the main menu and pick the relevant option from the screen. Gotta love the ability to switch between modes without having to flip the disc!) Overall, the movie presents with an inconsistent but generally decent picture.
Image quality varies because of the different styles the filmmakers attempted. Some of the segments are supposed to look like TV shows, so they seem much fuzzier and softer than the rest of the film. Other than those pseudo-video portions, though, the movie generally appears pretty crisp and accurate. Some slight softness still shows up at times, but the "TV" segments are really the only instances during which the image is significantly dull.
Moiré effects appeared a few times, but I saw no examples of jagged edges, and I also detected no problems with the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. The print itself betrays mild grain but seems blissfully free of other flaws; I witnessed no examples of scratches, hairs, nicks or speckles.
Other aspects of the image vary in a manner similar to the sharpness. Essentially everything looks pretty bad during the TV segments but comes across as fairly good the rest of the time. During the "film" sequences, colors appear decently saturated and accurate, and black levels are adequately dark and deep. Shadow detail wasn't very strong - check out a low-light segment of "Fistful of Yen", for example - but it didn't seem terrible, either. As inconsistent as it is, The Kentucky Fried Movie provides a picture superior to what I expected.
The same goes for the relatively decent monaural soundtrack. Although Dolby Surround audio had made theatrical inroads by 1977, it certainly wasn't the rule, and monaural tracks were still pretty common. As such, I won't fault this cheaply-made picture for only offering mono sound, especially since it seems fairly good. Dialogue sounds clear and moderately natural, with no intelligibility issues. Effects are somewhat thin but they seem clean and acceptably crisp. The film features no actual score, so whatever music we hear comes from the individual segments and isn't part of a greater whole. As such, there isn't a whole lot of music, and what we hear seems rather thin and tinny. Despite that flaw, I still found the soundtrack of The Kentucky Fried Movie to provide a relatively positive listening experience.
Anchor Bay haven't gone wild with supplemental features, but TKFM tosses in a few. Most significant is the running audio commentary from director John Landis, writers David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams, and producer Robert K. Weiss. All five men were recorded together, which is both a blessing and a curse. This fact seems to help the track in that it makes the recording more lively; the guys sound as though they're having a great time as they screen the flick and reminisce. Unfortunately, their fun doesn't always - or usually - translate to great listening. Too much of the commentary degenerates into laughter, which can get a bit annoying after a while. A lot of the information tends to be of the "that guy is..." variety; while the track remains more compelling than the Farrelly brothers' affairs (which are almost entirely made up of their identification of friends and family), this recording seems short on real information. It provides a fair amount, actually - even a TKFM-hater like myself was amused by the titles the guys wanted to use for it - but it can be a tough listen at times.
Another interesting extra is called "On-set Home Movies". These Super 8 scenes were shot by the Zuckers to apparently try to convince the folks back home they actually were working in Hollywood. The quality is obviously pretty rough, but the clips seemed very entertaining and they provide a fun glimpse behind the scenes. We find about 18 and a half minutes of film in this section.
Next is a "Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery" which provides exactly what the title states. We get 129 stillframes of black and white production shots. These are moderately interesting, though I was pleased - very pleased - to find some nudity in them. Hooray for naked women!
Finally, the DVD finishes with a decent theatrical trailer and some quite good biographies of the five men who participate in the audio commentary. This package won't make any forget the extras on Fight Club, but for a movie that offers such limited financial returns, it's nice to see that Anchor Bay took the trouble to add these pieces. I may not like the film, but I'm always happy to see any DVD receive quality treatment.
It's too bad the movie itself is a complete dud. I've seen less entertaining films than The Kentucky Fried Movie, but not many. The picture wants to be an outrageous and daring comedy, but it only succeeds in appearing stupid and inane. The DVD itself offers mediocre but nonetheless surprisingly good image and sound, and it tosses in a few decent supplements as well. Fans of TKFM will doubtless by pleased with this release, but all others should pass on it and pray for a DVD issue of Ruthless People instead.
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