Quick, get a saw, they're 'Out on a Limb'

September 05, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

I'll tell you what's out on a limb. It's some Universal executive's butt, that's what's out on a limb. If they gave Nobel Prizes for bad judgment, the guy who said yes to "Out on a Limb" would win so convincingly they'd have to retire the award.

It's a laborious, wheezing farce that reiterates the most hallowed cliches in the book of dead vaudeville routines, as it merrily demonstrates just how much bad taste and listless stupidity 15 or so million bucks can buy. It was directed by Francis Veber, a transplanted Frenchman who has no more feel for the texture of American life than he does for the texture of life on the bottom on the sea. The movie doesn't have subtitles but it's in a foreign language!

How does this guy get work? Years back he wrote the screenplay to "La Cage aux Folles," and from that slender reed has spun out into an awesome industry of banality. For some absurd reason, American filmmakers keep making bad movies out of his French films. How's this for a list of dogs -- "Pure Luck," "The Toy," "Buddy, Buddy" and "The Man With One Red Shoe." As my friend and bunkmate Duncan often comments, "Arf! Arf!"

We'll never know the screenplay by Daniel Goldin and Joshua Goldin had any comic potential, not with the ham-handed Monsieur Veber at the controls. Each joke is broadly underlined, each punchline is too slow in coming and out of sync, each performance is over the top except the star's, which is under the bottom, and the whole thing does the hokey-pokey as it shakes itself about.

The story is actually narrated by a child during a "What I did over my summer vacation" session on the first day of school. One wretched excess is a young "Gene and Roger" skinny boy/fat boy argument that breaks out between two of the students. Pandering to Gene and Roger's ample vanity won't get them a thumb's up, I guarantee you.

The story-proper concerns a town of fools, Buzzsaw, in Northern California, where God forgot to hand out brains. But that's equally true of the people on both sides of the camera. What energy the story generates owes to the coincidental congruence of three plotlines: the mayor's evil twin returns to town to kill him and rob the bank, the mayor's stepson (Matthew Broderick) returns to town to help his confused sister (the child narrating the story), and some attractive but hopelessly undefined young woman keeps beating up the brother for reasons no one in the movie and certainly no one in the Universal executive suite can begin to make clear.

Poor Broderick, once such a gifted young actor; he's the nominal star, stuck in the feckless reaction role, pulled this way and that by the meaningless frenzy of the plot, always a day late and a beat behind. It's not pretty. And poorer yet is Jeffrey Jones, as the good and evil twin, reduced to gibbering, howling, yapping, looking for a whisper of a character to play. It's even less pretty. And Heidi Kling, the strange young woman who runs, either as chaser or as chasee, for almost the movie's entire 90 minutes, could be a mouse in a maze created by a French existentialist to amuse his darker sense of the pointlessness of the universe. She pretty. But that's all.

'Out on a Limb'

Starring Matthew Broderick and Jeffrey Jones

Directed by Francis Veber

Released by Universal

Rated PG

*

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