Picks and Pans Review: Life Stinks

updated 08/19/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/19/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Mel Brooks, Lesley Ann Warren

It is produced, directed and co-scripted by Mel Brooks, and it stars Mel Brooks. But what this film about the homeless really has written all over it is "well-meaning amateur."

If it had been made by a college senior it would seem dull, but coming from an accomplished movie satirist, if approaches embarrassing levels of tedium. The jokes are scant, and the message of tolerance for the destitute is heavy-handed enough to have been delivered by someone holding a 20-pound ham in each fist.

Brooks plays an unspeakably rich Los Angeles real estate tycoon who, to win a high-stakes bet, agrees to spend 30 days living on the street. His experiences are for the most part played all too straight—one character ends up dead on a sidewalk. In one scene Brooks leads a chorus of poor people in a hospital emergency room bitterly chanting "Life stinks!"; in another, Warren, supposedly a bag lady, takes offense at someone's description of the peacefulness of dying in your sleep and proceeds to mime a gruesomely painful heart attack.

Brooks's script (done with two co-writers) often rings false. Warren, for one thing, seems just a hair-fluff away from her standard movie-star looks, and a scene in which she and Brooks dance to "Easy to Love," dressed in their raggy street clothes, is the very definition of schmaltz.

There's a Chaplinesque tone to the project, with every line and gesture getting the kind of exaggerated take that was common to silent movies. Even if Brooks were as good a physical comedian as Chaplin, though, the film's broad style would still be 65 or 70 years out of date. (PG-13)

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