80s Trash of the Week: In God We Tru$t

I have a soft spot for Marty Feldman. I can’t say he has puppy dog eyes, unless your puppy is from an alien planet where their eyes grow on stalks, but I saw him in SILENT MOVIE and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN as a kid and always found him funny. His personal projects tend to be broad spoofs, such as THE LAST REMAKE OF BEAU GESTE, and his take on televangelists, IN GOD WE TRU$T. The problem that kept Marty’s movies from being as big as those of partner in crime Mel Brooks is that his sense of humor is so mild and subtle. He has a bit of Jacques Tati in him, a lot of vaudeville, and he was just too old fashioned for audiences by the time he was allowed in the director’s chair. He’s more famous for broadly comic roles in Brooks’ films, like his immortal Eye-gor, and the like. In his own films he is a less talkative Woody Allen, and while they are great if you like his self-deprecating, nervous milquetoast character, they require rapt attention to get the little details, and that’s something audiences have lacked for a long time.

~Do not walk on water~

The story begins at the Trappist Abbey of Ambrose the Unlikely, where the mortgage is about to be foreclosed upon. They have signs all over the place because of the Vow of Silence, that read “Keep They Trappist Shut.” Puns and PG friendly visual gags abound. Marty plays Brother Ambrose, the monk tasked with going out into the wild world and paying the mortgage so the monastery isn’t kicked out on its holy arse. On the road he meets a crazy, scheming revival preacher played by Peter Boyle who has a refitted school bus that he brings the Word to people with, for donations. Boyle plays the part a lot like his version of Dr. Gonzo in WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM without the politics. Sometimes he’s funny, but he’s a predictable character, stealing from Ambrose and dumping him in the big city.

If God had not intended for some people to be poor, then He would not have had The Bible published in paperback!  

There we have the most fun, as Ambrose meets Mary- a hooker played by Louise Lasser. Lasser is just a funny comedian and brings a lot to the role of the Hollywood hooker with a heart of gold. She first thinks Ambrose wants to break his vow of chastity, but when she sees he’s an innocent doofus, she helps him out, and introduces him to sinful indulgences like hot dogs and ice cream, which he prefers to mix together. As a ten year old, that was funny. Watching it all again, I grinned a lot nostalgically. The movie doesn’t really pick up until Ambrose sees televangelist Armageddon T. Thunderbird on the TV, played by none other than Andy Kaufman at his scenery-chewing finest. With an enormous pompadour and the showmanship and charisma of a master scammer, he has a religious empire run like a corporation, with suited stooges and everything an ’80s villain needs. He even has G.O.D., a computer of course, played by Richard Pryor.

So yes, God was black here long before BRUCE ALMIGHTY, and Richard Pryor jumps right into the role. Like Ambrose, he’s an innocent- a computer program that is just learning about the real world. I don’t know if Feldman was trying to make an absurdist and atheist comment on God, or making an insightful satirical poke at how computers have become our God, but the scenes with Pryor and Kaufman are the best in the movie, and make it worth tracking down. It’s not available on DVD, nor as a torrent. I got lucky and it was played on cable last February. Between this, THE LIFE OF BRIAN and WHOLLY MOSES, kids with HBO in the ’80s had a lot of annoying questions to ask the Sunday school teachers! This isn’t as great as the Pythons take on the Gospels, but it is fun once it gets going and is a must for fans of Marty Feldman and Andy Kaufman, as they made so few films. In the video clip I uploaded, you get to see God give the finger.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today? Not a chance
Quotability Rating: None
Cheese Factor: Monk’s toe cheese
High Points: Andy Kaufman and Richard Pryor
Low Point: Long, slow start
Gratuitous Boobies: Nun (get it?)

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

On the New Jersey Turnpike, No One Can Hear You Scream

That was the excellent tagline for one of Richard Pryor’s minor hit films, Moving. Playing off the infamous “In space, no one can hear you scream” of Alien, this absurd comedy pits middle-class Dad Pryor versus the indignities of every day life as he attempts to move his family to a nice house in the suburbs. I’m packing up and moving soon, so I wanted to review this enjoyable ’80s flick, but it is criminally out of print. Now, it’s not one of Pryor’s best, like my favorites- The Toy, Blue Collar, and Silver Streak– but it’s better than most late ’80s fare. It hits a lot of the same notes as Joe Dante’s The ‘Burbs, but never gets quite bizarre enough to reach that pinnacle.

Randy Quaid plays his jerk neighbor in both states, and Dana Carvey has an early role as a wacky guy he hires to drive his car to Idaho, where they are moving. It plays on familiar fantasies to escape the cramped, crazy life in New Jersey’s older suburbs where congestion reigns, and substitutes new annoyances in his new state. Like many Jerseyans who fled to Pennsylvania to be baffled by their Puritan liquor laws and a paucity of civilized conveniences, which make Jersey so crowded in the first place. The grass is always greener, even if it’s asphalt covered in cigarette butts.

The most memorable scene is the ending, when Pryor’s mild-mannered Dad finally gets fed up, dresses like a ninja, and starts kicking the ass of the movers who arrived weeks late with their belongings. One of them is played by wrestler King Kong Bundy, and it makes for an amusing bit of craziness that needed to be amped up throughout the film to bring things up a peg. As it is, it’s similar to several late ’80s comedies like Chevy Chase’s Funny Farm, where things sound a lot funnier than they actually play out. Moving, however, has Richard Pryor and his one of a kind physical comedy. Has anyone expressed utter apoplectic rage and terror like his wide-eyed, lip-biting visage, as if his head were about to explode?

My friend Jay over at The Sexy Armpit wrote a much more in-depth review on his blog, and I send you there for great screen shots of this Jersey classic.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.