Drop Dead Fred

DROP DEAD FRED is a therapeutic fable for people who believe that by becoming an adult, one inevitably loses the capacity to have fun. But the alternative it suggests is nothing short of horrifying. Elizabeth Cronin's (Phoebe Cates) life is a shambles. Her philandering husband Charles (Tim Matheson) has left her to move in with a blond bombshell, her car...read more

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DROP DEAD FRED is a therapeutic fable for people who believe that by becoming an adult, one inevitably loses the capacity to have fun. But the alternative it suggests is nothing short of horrifying.

Elizabeth Cronin's (Phoebe Cates) life is a shambles. Her philandering husband Charles (Tim Matheson) has left her to move in with a blond bombshell, her car has been stolen and her overbearing mother Polly (Marsha Mason) has just arrived to take care of things. Asleep in her old room in her

mother's neurotically immaculate house, Elizabeth feels as though she's an unhappy little girl again. And in many ways she is--so many ways, in fact, that the imaginary friend who helped her through her oppressive childhood, "Drop Dead Fred" (Rik Mayall), returns to cheer her up, just like old

times. Except that these aren't old times. After a moment of shocked recognition--Drop Dead Fred is horrified that she's grown up, she thinks maybe she's losing her mind--they're up to their old tricks. Drop Dead Fred is the embodiment of the spirit of childhood anarchy, a wild willingness to defy

convention that's sorely lacking in the meek adult Elizabeth. Getting in touch with the child within us is thought, in certain circles, to be a good thing, but at first it seems all Drop Dead Fred brings Elizabeth is trouble. He smears dog droppings all over Polly's newly shampooed white carpet,

turns Elizabeth's lunch with a childhood friend--and potential new boyfriend--Mickey Bunce (Ron Eldard) into a food fight, sinks her best friend Janie's (Carrie Fisher) houseboat while playing pirate games and smashes a humorless musician's violin during a pretentious mall concert.

Amazingly enough, all works out for the best, and Drop Dead Fred gives Elizabeth the courage to rid herself of Charles, establish an adult relationship with her mother and begin dating Mickey. His mission accomplished, Drop Dead Fred goes on to team up with another little girl--Mickey's daughter.

Flashbacks show us Elizabeth's stultifying childhood and the liberating influence Drop Dead Fred represented. But though Polly is presented as monstrously repressive and just plain mean, it's hard not to take her side when Elizabeth and Fred play "burglar," drawing magic marker stripes on

Elizabeth's sweater, dumping garbage all over the floor, smashing the living room window to "escape" and burying the silverware in the flower garden. And all that's before the police arrive. No wonder Polly trapped him in a jack-in-the-box toy and taped it shut (she thought it was just a symbolic

gesture); who wouldn't?

Even if the idea of DROP DEAD FRED appeals, Rik Mayall's performance is extremely irritating. Best known for his work on "The Young Ones," a British sitcom about four awful students sharing a house, Mayall specializes in gross, frequently scatological humor that wears thin rather quickly.

DROP DEAD FRED seems intended to be a film children and their parents can enjoy together. But children are often amused by things adults don't quite get, and conversely, are often terrified by things adults think are adorable. Clowns are the obvious case in point: everybody's seen weeping

children hastily removed from the circus. Drop Dead Fred and his friends, several of whom we meet when Polly takes Elizabeth to see a doctor who specializes in treating children with "imaginary friend syndrome," are truly grotesque. "Go to Hell Herman" is a hairy fat man in a tank top, "Namby

Pamby" a monstrously obese woman in a tutu. They're too real--and consistent--in their monstrousness to ring true as the products of a child's imagination. Any comparisons to Beetlejuice's authentically weird and wonderful imagination is strictly wishful thinking.

In the same way, DROP DEAD FRED's anarchic influence seems to have more to do with adult frustrations than a return to some genuinely childlike capacity to enjoy the world and its wonders. Fairy tales that work for both adults and children are very tough to bring off; EDWARD SCISSORHANDS is the

only recent example that comes to mind. Children may delight in some of DROP DEAD FRED's fanciful effects sequences, but they're likely to be bored by Elizabeth's grown-up problems. And adults may identify with its self-help message, but the rest is squirm-inducing. (Mild profanity, sexualsituations.)

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