Gentle 'Life Stinks' salutes several classic films

On movies

July 29, 1991|By Lou Cedrone

Mel Brooks pays homage to Charlie Chaplin in his newest film, "Life Stinks." He also salutes The Three Stooges, the MGM musicals starring Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, and the Frank Capra films, all with pleasant result.

"Life Stinks," rated PG-13, has Brooks playing billionaire Goddard Bolt, a man who bets a rival that he can survive for 30 days on the mean streets of Los Angeles without money.

At risk is a new development, Bolt City, a project that will go to Bolt's rival should Bolt not be able to make it on the street for 30 days.

During that time, Bolt takes up with a selection of colorful street people, including a bag lady, finds himself in a hospital run by fools, and when he returns home discovers that he has more enemies than he knows.

The Three Stooges business takes place when Bolt meets a street person who thinks he is J. Paul Getty. The MGM salute takes place when Bolt and the bag lady, played by Lesley Ann Warren, do a dance that brings Kelly to mind, and the Capra touches are evident at the close of the film when Bolt leads the homeless in a territorial dispute.

Chaplin? Well, "Life Stinks" almost immediately brings "Modern Times" to mind. Paulette Goddard was the street waif in that one. Chaplin was the tramp who loved her.

We frequently know where the gags are going in this film, but the set-ups are clever, and the finale, in which giant scoopers do battle sci-fi, stop-action fashion, is exceptionally funny.

Along the way, Brooks, who co-authored the script and directed, takes shots at both the medical and legal professions. In the first case, it is genial. In the second, it is not.

Jeffrey Tambor is Bolt's business rival, Rudy De Luca, who collaborated on the script, is the man who thinks he is Getty, and Teddy Wilson and Howard Morris are two of the street people befriended by Bolt.

"Life Stinks" is not the best of Brooks, but it is certainly not his worst. It's a nice, sweet, almost gentle film. However, it should be approached with caution. Those who don't like Chaplin, The Three Stooges and the '30s films in which the poor people were always marching against the establishment may not go for this one.

"Life Stinks"

** A businessman bets that he can survive on the mean streets of Los Angeles for 30 days without money.

CAST: Mel Brooks, Lesley Ann Warren, Jeffrey Tambor, Stuart Pankin, Howard Morris, Rudy De Luca, Teddy Wilson, Billy Barty

DIRECTOR: Mel Brooks

RATING: PG-13 (language)

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

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