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Mel Brooks
Mel Brooks, Lesley Ann Warren, Jeffrey Tambor, Stuart Pankin, Howard Morris
Writing Credits:
Mel Brooks, Rudy De Luca, Steve Haberman

Rated PG-13.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Standard 1.33:1
English Dolby Surround

Runtime: 92 min.
Price: $14.95
Release Date: 2/18/2003

• Audio Commentary with Director/Actor/Writer Mel Brooks and Writers Rudy De Luca and Steve Haberman
• “Does Life Really Stink?” Featurette
• Trailers


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Life Stinks (1991)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 15, 2003)

Back when I was cheap – okay, cheaper - I used to almost exclusively attend movies at bargain cinemas. Normally flicks would make it to the dollar theaters after about three months. Big hits took longer, and duds showed up more quickly.

Back in 1991, I encountered what seemed to be the all-time speed champ, as Life Stinks hit my local bargain screens a mere two weeks after it premiered at the full-price theaters. Though I would see almost anything at the cheap venues, I skipped Stinks, as it looked like a total dud. The new DVD release finally convinced me to watch the movie, and this experience confirmed my old impressions: Life Stinks provided a total dud.

The film focuses on ruthless tycoon Goddard Bolt (Brooks). He plans to buy a decrepit parcel of land in Los Angeles so he can create the humongous Bolt Center complex. Another developer named Vance Crasswell (Jeffrey Tambor) owns the territory Bolt needs, and the two hit an impasse. Crasswell solves the problem with a bet: if Bolt can survive in the slums for a month without any help, Goddard gets Vance’s land for free. Otherwise, Crasswell takes over the whole domain.

From there we see Bolt’s experiences on the streets. He struggles to find food and shelter, and he eventually develops a small group of friends. He meets Sailor (Howard Morris), and this encounter gives him the nickname “Pepto”; Bolt sleeps with his head against a Pepto Bismol box, and the logo adheres to his head. Bolt also encounters Sailor’s alcoholic friend Fumes (Teddy Wilson) when they go to the mission.

At one point, some thugs attack Bolt, and he escapes when bag lady Molly (Lesley Ann Warren_ saves him. She does this only to protect her territory, but the pair eventually strike up a romance. This starts to develop after Bolt unwittingly becomes a hero. The thugs trash Molly’s joint and she wants revenge. During his part, Bolt accidentally strays outside of the territory in which he must stay to win the bet. As he scrambles to re-enter the acceptable property, he seems brave to the others, even though he does this for selfish reasons.

Essentially Stinks just follows Bolt’s misadventures as he attempts to cope with life on the streets. Brooks can’t quite decide if he wants to create a touching drama or a politically incorrect laughfest. This means that Stinks satisfies none of its masters and ends up as a flat and boring piece.

Actually, Stinks tries to play both sides of the political correctness coin. On one hand, Brooks tries to show the indignities heaped upon the homeless, and we see how difficult their lives can be. However, Brooks also wants to have fun at their expense, as we check out a long roster of wacky characters. The issues of the homeless are presented in a simplistic and caricatured manner that makes them neither amusing joke fodder nor realistic personalities.

The performances don’t help. I don’t know if Brooks has ever seemed quite so dull. He brings no spark or personality to Bolt, who just seems flat and lifeless. Perhaps he scales back his acting to balance out the wild overacting of Warren, who presents a radically cartoony character. She appears aggressively annoying in her florid and screechy performance.

Neither pointed social satire or rich character piece, Life Stinks stands as one of Mel Brooks’ crummiest films. Admittedly, I never thought much of his work, but at least most of his other flicks provided some sense of personality. Stinks just lays totally flat and enjoys no sense of life, spark, charm or humor. It’s a pointless exercise in pointlessness.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+ / Audio C+ / Bonus C-

Life Stinks appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Though the image occasionally looked fine, it suffered from too many problems to ever rise above the level of mediocrity.

Much of the time, the picture looked rather soft. The focus didn’t seem terribly off, but it often appeared oddly ill defined. Sharpness was acceptable through most of the film, but it lacked much definition or crispness. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but I did notice some moderate edge enhancement at times. As for print flaws, some light grain appeared, and I also saw occasional examples of specks and marks. The defects didn’t seem heavy, but they created a few distractions.

Despite the natural palette featured in the film, the colors of Life Stinks generally looked fairly drab. They came across as moderately accurate but they lacked life or presence. The hues mostly seemed a bit flat and drab. Black levels looked decent but were somewhat inky at times, and shadow detail tended to be thick. Low-light shots came across as fairly murky and dense. Ultimately, the movie didn’t ever look terrible, but it seemed decidedly lackluster across the board.

The Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Life Stinks also appeared quite ordinary. The soundfield heavily accentuated the front speakers. In that domain, I noticed decent stereo imaging for the score, and effects spread modestly to the sides. I noticed some light environmental audio and a little panning, but not much occurred. Speech displayed some annoying bleeding to the sides; the dialogue remained focused in the center, but more than a few blips occurred. The surrounds contributed general reinforcement of the front material and kicked in some moderate expansion at times; for example, shots at the mission broadened the sound of the inhabitants loosely.

Audio quality seemed bland. Speech appeared flat and thin, and I also noticed some edginess to the lines at times. The dialogue remained intelligible but lacked many natural qualities. Music sounded acceptably clear and concise but failed to deliver much dynamic range and seemed somewhat drab. Effects came across as reasonably accurate and distinct, but they also didn’t show much spark or depth. One instance of thunder boasted some decent bass, but otherwise the track sounded somewhat weak. Overall, the audio of Life Stinks came across as generally acceptable but lackluster.

Life Stinks tosses in a few supplements, and we start with an audio commentary from writer/director/actor Mel Brooks and writers Rudy De Luca and Steve Haberman. All three sat together for this running, screen-specific track. Despite the noted comic talents of Brooks, this commentary seemed frightfully dull. None of the men spoke much, and the vast majority of the movie passed without any statements. When they did chat, they mostly just praised the flick or told us who’d died since 1991. Almost no real data about Life Stinks emerged. Brooks perked up when he talked about the dance sequence, and we also learned a little about the rat scene and a couple of other segments. However, the bad greatly outweighed the good in this tremendously dull and uninformative track. Even fans of the flick likely will find this one to waste their time, as this is one of the worst commentaries I’ve ever heard.

While not anything special, the new featurette called Does Life Really Stink? at least improves greatly on the commentary. The 14-minute and 11-second piece simply mixes movie clips and interviews with the three commentary participants: Brooks, De Luca and Haberman. Each taped separately, they discussed some different elements of the production from writing the script to filming the slap fight to the movie’s general theme. The program doesn’t provide a lot of information, but after that dreadful commentary, it seems moderately useful.

Lastly, Life Stinks adds some ads. Presented anamorphic 1.85:1 with Dolby Surround 2.0 audio, we find the theatrical trailer for Stinks itself. We also get a section called Other Great MGM Releases. It includes the “MGM Means Great Movies” DVD trailer and a promo for The Producers.

Possibly the worst film ever directed by Mel Brooks, Life Stinks falls totally flat. It seems tremendously dull and unfunny with no substance to it. The movie seeks to enlighten but just bores. The DVD provides mediocre picture and sound along with a lackluster roster of extras weighed down by a simply terrible audio commentary. Despite the DVD’s very low list price of less than $15, I can’t recommend this clunker to anyone.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.72 Stars Number of Votes: 25
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