Jon Lovitz: wonderfully zany in spoof of tackiness

July 25, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

As a marketing concept, "Mom and Dad Save the World" is a complete catastrophe. It's a movie astutely engineered for an audience of zero.

It has no big stars; it's too camp for the hip and too hip for the camp. It's too sophisticated for very young kids, and not not nearly sophisticated enough for teen-agers. It even honors a mom and a dad, those backward, groping, awkward figures of folly and dwindling authority. Only an idiot could love it.

Naturally, I adored it.

The movie is just loopy enough and manages to find just the right off-kilter tone and my expectations were just low enough TC (no pre-release screening for critics) to conspire to make it a peck of fun, although my laughter was the solitary rumpus in a theater otherwise bereft of sound.

Teri Garr and Jeffrey Jones play Dick and Marge Nelson of Woodland Hills, Calif., a valley bedroom community of no distinguishing personality. They themselves have no distinguishing personalities. They are the dreary spirit of middle-aged responsibility: grouchy wage earners, whose bodies have begun to subtly betray them, whose zest for existence is somewhat degraded by virtueof the fact they no longer notice existence. He has a bad back and a tendency to fall asleep, she is chipper but banal; and as a couple they are about as interesting as watching Tupperware wilt in the bright sun. A strange pair of commandos!

It happens that on the planet Spengo, newly named for its dictator Tod Spengo (Jon Lovitz), Marge has been selected by space telescope as Earth's most desirable woman. Why Marge? Because she's beautiful? No; beauty is in the eye of the beholder, even when the beholder is an idiot. For Spengo is a planet of idiots.

This is a slender conceit upon which to hang a movie, but it's just daffy enough to harvest an almost endless bounty of idiot jokes. When Tod zaps the Nelsons to Spengo to marry her and murder him as foreplay to his plot to blow up the Earth, all manner of idiocy is unleashed.

The central icon of this low-IQ cosmos is Lovitz's Tod, a superbly demented creation. Vain and insecure and stupidly murderous, he's Stalin as 13-year-old dweeb. Lovitz deadpans and throwaway-gags his way through one of the zaniest performances ever recorded on film. Trilling, effeminate, he slewfoots around ordering executions and the destruction of worlds with the whimsy of someone picking chintz patterns at an interior design studio. It falls to Dad to lead a rebellion against him and to Mom to distract him for a few days until the rebellion can succeed.

The movie is set in one of those weird movie wonderlands: It appears to be inspired by the planet Mongo from "Flash Gordon" fame, as reinterpreted through a prism of John Waters' interiors. Everything about it is tacky in a peculiarly charming way; it takes an exquisite sense of high taste to design something in bad taste that isn't merely in bad taste but somehow sends up bad taste. Idiots couldn't have been involved.

'Mom and Dad Save the World'

Starring Jon Lovitz, Jeffrey Jones and Teri Garr

Directed by Greg Beeman

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated PG

***

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