Rik Mayall

From the Vault #1: DROP DEAD FRED (1991)

From 2012 onwards, before developing this blog, I wrote a multitude of reviews on the website Letterboxd. In this irregular series called From the Vault, I’m going to haul these earlier reviews out of mothballs and re-purpose them here.

This one is from June 9th, 2014, both my 32nd birthday and the day Rik Mayall passed away…

One of Working Title’s earliest hits outside of the UK was Drop Dead Fred, a movie that has slipped into cult obscurity as something of an unusual comic curio, chiefly thanks to the presence of the late Rik Mayall, who brings his finely honed sense of anarchic British comedy to what is otherwise a redoubtably American production. 

Ate de Jong’s subsequent film is quite an odd beast when you boil it down, never quite successfully gelling on the one hand a quite zany, quite base, scatological, childish broad comedy, yet on the other a surprisingly psychological drama around Phoebe Cates’ girl who never truly grew up. It never quite knows what angle it wants to push more, so aims for both with equal veracity and it’s fair to say only Mayall makes it in any way worth the surprisingly baggy experience despite the fairly tight running time.

The crucial problem of course is that for a comedy, it’s not really very funny. You can guarantee a few laughs when Mayall’s titular Fred turns up–which thankfully is pretty regular once the wheels of plot start rolling–but de Jong’s script trades purely off Mayall’s schoolboy silliness that while always effective given the actor, feels very much at odds with what else the script is trying to do.


The Cult of ‘Laddism’: Men Behaving Badly (Series 3 & 4)

Celebrated 1990’s British sitcom Men Behaving Badly recently returned to UK Netflix, which feels like a good opportunity to explore a show which helped define its decade, series by series. Has it stood the test of time?

If the third series of Men Behaving Badly sets the show on the road to British comedy success, the fourth series is arguably the year that cements the cult following that grew up around it – the mid-1990’s cult of ‘laddism’.

The first two series of Simon Nye’s show had the concept but it lacked in terms of execution. Martin Clunes stood out immediately as Gary Strang, a hapless, middle-class thirty-something determined to prove his own sexual vitality and fight against a perfectly ordinary relationship with an ordinary woman. His pairing with Harry Enfield as Dermot Povey in Series 1 never quite worked, with Dermot’s passivity in the face of ‘lad culture’ immediately exposed an underwhelming in Series 2 by the arrival of his replacement, Neil Morrissey’s Tony Smart. Though arguably Nye doesn’t fully figure out how Tony works until well into Series 3, his dynamic with Clunes was far more natural, as was it with the shows female co-stars Caroline Quentin and Leslie Ash.

Come the third and particularly the fourth series, their natural dynamic steadily becomes edgier, naughtier, more raucous and more specifically about the growing aspects of ‘laddism’ that were being popularised in mid-90’s culture; dirty lads magazines, drunk nights in the pub, looser attitudes toward fidelity and a determination to prove the masculine sense of virility in sexual conquests with women. Men Behaving Badly, on moving from a pre-watershed ITV slot to post-watershed airing space on the BBC, steadily across both of these series embraces the promise of its title. Tony grows more desperate, Gary more lascivious, and both become more boorish and prone to embrace the physically grotesque.

What happens as a result? Men Behaving Badly becomes steadily funnier, more acute in its social and moral commentary, and arguably in Series 4 reaches its creative apex.