Friday, February 12, 2016


Producer, writer and director Mel Brooks never met a film genre he couldn't parody. Beginning with the groundbreaking and, you'll forgive the expression, "trail blazing" BLAZING SADDLES in 1974, Brooks delivered a series of films each aimed at a specific type of movie. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974) was a loving and hilarious homage to the classic Universal horror films of the 1930s, SILENT MOVIE (1976), was, what else, a delightful spoof of silent films (only one word is spoken in the entire film), HIGH ANXIETY (1977) lampoons most of the Alfred Hitchcock filmography while HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART I (1981) was a send up of various historical epics.

And then there was SPACEBALLS (1987), which riffed on George Lucas's STAR WARS films with potshots at such other durable cinematic science fiction franchises as STAR TREK, ALIEN and PLANET OF THE APES.

The trouble is, subtle is not a word to be found in Mel Brooks's vocabulary. SPACEBALLS is the kind of film where, when someone gives an order to "comb the desert", you just know that the next scene will be of men armed with giant black plastic combs (including one for "Afro" hair styles) literally coming the sands. It's not a question of seeing the gags coming in this film. You see them coming all right. You also see them slow down and signal for a turn. Oh, and that "jamming the radar" bit? It was funnier the first time in AIRPLANE! (1980).

Still, SPACEBALLS does have it's moments. Brooks breaks the fourth wall several times, indulges in a self-referential scene in which all of his previous films just happen to be on hand (on VHS cassette tapes no less!), and he savages the endless stream of tie-in merchandising that every blockbuster film engenders. Ethnic jokes and sight gags abound, along with potty humor and spit takes. Oh, yes, spit takes.

Brooks plays a dual role as President Skroob and "Yogurt", the ancient, wizened alien wise man. Think "Yogurt" is funny? You'll love "Pizza the Hutt". Yeah, it's that sophisticated.

Maybe if I had seen this in the theater with an audience when it first came out I would have laughed more. After all,laughter is contagious. Instead, I watched it on DVD by myself last week and found only chuckled a couple of times. It's nowhere near as funny as either BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (in my mind Brooks' s best films), but you have to give him credit for trying.

If you enjoyed the movie parodies drawn by Mort Drucker in old issues of MAD Magazine, you'll enjoy SPACEBALLS. The gags are hit and miss but they never stop coming.

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