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Screwed

Review by Joe Barlow
Posted 12 May 2000

Directed by Scott Alexander 
and
Larry Karaszewski

Starring Norm MacDonald, 
Dave Chappelle, Danny DeVito, 
Sherman Hemsley, 
and
Elaine Stritch

Written by Scott Alexander 
and
Larry Karaszewski

There's probably not much need for a review of Screwed, since even a cursory look at the trailer will reveal everything you need to know about this insipid comedy, but I'm feeling generous. Although the film contains a number of scenes that will generate laughter from most members of the audience, it's the sort of laughter that will plague you later -- the type of low-brow humor that will yank you from sleep, causing you to leap out of bed screaming "AAAAAH! I laughed at that? What the hell was I thinking?"

Willard (Saturday Night Live's Norm MacDonald) is the live-in servant for the aptly-named Miss Crock (Elaine Stritch), a Betty Crocker-ish culinary artist who owns a string of bakeries. Although the public at large perceives her as a dear, sweet old lady, Willard knows better: the stingy Ms. Crock is a temperamental, stingy hag who is too cheap even to buy her loyal servant a new work uniform. She's only too happy, however, to throw obscene amounts of money to her assistant Chip (Sherman Hemsley) faster than he can possibly spend it.

While commiserating over job and money woes with his best friend Rusty (a fun performance by stand-up comic Dave Chappelle), Willard hits upon an idea: what if he and Rusty were to steal Miss Crock's prize possession -- her dog, Muffin -- and hold it for one million dollars ransom? Not only would this scheme allow Willard to quit the job he despises, it would also afford Rusty the chance to fulfill his dream of opening a fried chicken restaurant in a nice neighborhood.

The dog-napping, however, doesn't go quite as planned. Due to a number of unforeseen (and admittedly very funny) circumstances, Miss Crock is left with the impression that Willard is the one being held captive, and not her dog. Willard and Rusty, masters of improvisation, take advantage of this situation, upping their demands to an even five million dollars. The duo also sends phony video clips of Willard being "tortured" to TV stations across the country, thereby adding pressure on Miss Crock to pay the ransom, despite the fact that she hates him.

The problem with Screwed is not so much the screenplay, which contains an intriguing premise, but its tone. Writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (who also share the directing credit) have imbued their script with an abundance of sophomoric humor (one scene, involving a particularly severe dog attack, is lifted straight from There's Something About Mary). The trailer paints the film as a dark comedy, but its tone is far closer to the aforementioned Mary, and will probably delight fans who appreciate that sort of thing, particularly the scenes involving Rusty's unique method of solving problems with table lamps. But fans looking for dark humor may be disappointed with the unending stream of pratfalls and weenie jokes.

Many of the performances fare better than the story, with Chappelle, Stritch, and Danny DeVito (in an extended cameo as a scheming mortician) doing particularly good work. Unfortunately, Norm MacDonald only proves (once again) that he's not much of a comedic actor, delivering all his lines in the same monotone drawl which, although perfectly suited for stand-up comedy, doesn't have the necessary range for film. Nor do most of the secondary characters get an opportunity to do much with their limited screen time. The worst victim by far is Willard's girlfriend Hillary (a character so insubstantial that she may as well not exist at all, though she does get one the film's best lines: "Don't shoot! They're stupid and confused!")

I'll admit that Screwed made me laugh, but I hated myself for it. The humor is consistently low-brow, the set-ups are not believable, and the performances are hit-or-miss. Perhaps the most disappointing facet of the film is the mediocre screenplay, which is particularly disheartening since Alexander and Karaszewski are the screenwriters behind Tim Burton's marvelous Ed Wood, a film overflowing with wit and warmth. It's hard to believe that the same pair responsible for such a terrific movie can follow it up with something like this. I liked Ed Wood so much that when I began work on my own first screenplay, I bought a copy of the script so I could study its construction; indeed, the reason I saw Screwed in the first place was because I desperately wanted to see another film by such talented scribes. Screwed is an accurate description of how I felt upon leaving the theater.


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