'Meet the Feebles' is tasteless Muppets satire

June 23, 1995|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

The name of the movie is "Meet the Feebles," but the real question is: Why would anyone want to?

More a theoretical exercise in the limits of taste than an actual film, "Meet the Feebles" has but one joke which it extends with minor variations for a very long time indeed. The joke is: Muppets run amok.

The film, which opens today in rotation with "Crumb" at the Charles, indeed offers images yet unseen and probably yet unimagined save in the frenzied infernos of its creators' ids: Miss Piggy -- well, at least her satirical analogue, a vain, singing hippo called Heidi -- with an M-60 machine gun bloodily blowing apart all the cute li'l creatures of puppetland. Other highlights, at least to the degree they can be cited: puppet sex, puppet vomit, puppet feces, puppet crime, puppet drugs, puppet porn, puppet betrayal, puppet murder.

The auteur of this brazen sacrilege is New Zealander Peter Jackson, who broke out with a world hit last year in "Heavenly Creatures," the based-on-fact story of two Anzac private school girls who murdered one of their mothers back in the early '50s. That movie effectively outed one of the women, who'd gone on (after time in prison) to have a successful career as a mystery writer.

"Meet the Feebles" preceded "Heavenly Creatures," and without the second film's success would certainly not have made it to the light of day in this country. One can certainly appreciate the impulse behind it: Anyone who's ever grimaced in pain at the endless overpraise heaped on the collection of carpet remnants and odd buttons called the Muppets, anybody who's ever in the private darkness of his own mind screamed, "Enough with the *$#@### pig already," anybody who's ever imagined the frog -- sorry, Kermit -- would be at his best roasting on a spit will certainly get with the program.

But in this case, the program is too much. A 20-minute short, establishing the brazen idea, building to a frame or two of exquisite bad taste, would have been entirely enough. I think of the old National Lampoon's hilarious Babar the Elephant parody, where revolutionaries caught and executed Babar. Its incisiveness was part of its brilliance.

Jackson, however, can't stop himself. The film, quite elaborate with dozens of creatures and a multiplicity of plots and counterplots, goes on for a full 97 minutes. In form, it's a backstage melodrama, following the 24-hour period in which New Zealand's beloved Feebles gear up for the top-rated television show "Meet the Feebles." Cute and cuddly and kitschily musical on screen, the hand puppets (skillfully mounted, one must admit) are meretricious, vain, violent and sleazy off-camera. They breed like rabbits, they use drugs, they're into dope distribution -- well, you get the picture.

It was entirely too much, as Miss Piggy would say, pour moi.

"Meet the Feebles"

Directed by Peter Jackson

Released by Greycat Films

Unrated (unsuitable for children and churchgoers)

**

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