As comedies go, the unfunny 'Heavyweights' sinks like a stone

February 17, 1995|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Are you ready for this? "Heavyweights" turns out to be about the night in Vienna in 1909 when Freud, Oswald Spengler, Gustav Klimt, Carl Jung and Egon Schiele all went to a strip bar together, got wildly drunk, and ended up in the hoosegow the next morning.

"Ach! Mein Gott," Freud is reported to have said when he awoke with the mother of all hangovers, "my id is where my superego should be!"

Oh, all right: It's about a bunch of fat kids at summer camp.

The only surprise in it is bad. About a third of the way through, it stops being about fat kids at summer camp and turns into an elaborate satire of the infomercial phenomenon, beloved of we few existential insomniacs who channel surf through the crazed fringes of the cable grid in the dark night of the American soul, where it's always 3 a.m.

This plot thrust is represented by Ben Stiller in a truly manic performance. He plays Tony Perkis Jr., who buys Camp Hope from poor bankrupt Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara (his actual parents, though they probably denied it after initial screenings). Overnight, the nurturing, kind, compassionate Camp Hope is turned into a go-go prisoner-of-kid camp, where the kids are told they have to lose weight. Their mail is confiscated, their candy caches raided, and they are forced to endure calisthenics and contempt in equal amounts.

Stiller, obsessed with physical fitness and the extension of his empire, comes on like Attila the Hun in spandex. He generates so much energy, all of it unwelcome, that he was probably recorded on a National Geodesic Survey infrared satellite 800 miles up as a new volcano.

The plot turns on an attempt by a few low-esteem old-regime counselors at a revolt in the dessert by which the camp can be returned to its old level of benevolence. Does any of this sound funny? Because if it does, I have to go back and rewrite it until it doesn't.

The role of the counselor who leads the revolt seems tailor-made for a self-pitying big guy like the horrible Louie Anderson, but we were spared that, at least. Thank God for small favors. It is played instead by Tom McGowan in a plaintive pitch that's more than a whelp but not quite a full-throated whine.

His most important cohort is a plump decent boy, played by Aaron Schwartz with good nature all the way through. But the movie is mechanical, clumsy and never amusing. But that's OK, because it's real long, too.

"Heavyweights"

Starring Tom McGowan and Ben Stiller

Directed by Steven Brill

Released by Walt Disney Pictures

Rated PG

**

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