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Picks and Pans Review: Madhouse

updated 03/05/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/05/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

John Larroquette, Kirstie Alley

Who would have thought that National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation would ever seem like the good old days?

This film's cast doesn't include Chevy Chase. Otherwise it's even more obnoxious than the '89 holiday barf fest about unwanted friends and relatives overflowing a suburban home.

Larroquette and Alley are saddled with a hopelessly vacuous Tom Ropelewski, who is a disaster in his debut as director. In one cringe-inducing moment, Alley does a striptease as she tries to seduce Larroquette; Ropelewski's idea of wit becomes alarmingly clear as Alley tosses her panties at Larroquette and he catches them in his teeth. (Ropelewski was also inspired to include an unseen character named Jack Penix, who is a gynecologist; his telephone voice is provided by a real-life dentist named Jack Penix, Hold those sides.)

Larroquette is a Los Angeles investment adviser; Alley is a TV person-on-the-street interviewer. Their visitors include a boorish cousin from—where else?—New Jersey ("We're not insane; we're from New Jersey"), a sister who has been thrown out by her husband for spending too much, and a drug-dealing nephew. The slapstick, cat-vomit, pet-snake, flatulence bits fall all over each other. Every once in a while, Saturday Night Live's talented "Weekend Update" comic anchor, Dennis Miller, walks into a scene.

In one of the major TV-to-movie career miscalculations of all time, Miller sets himself up to play straight man-total, absolute straight man, no hint of jokes—in this wretched mess. As for the audience: What can we tell you, Dennis? We're out of there; you're not. (PG-13)

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