There's a truly wonderful, fanciful moment in the middle of LIFE STINKS where the homeless billionaire Goddard Bolt (Mel Brooks) grabs Molly (Lesley Ann Warren), a winsome but streetwise bag lady, in his arms and the two swirl across the floor of a delapidated building to the charming strains of Cole Porter's "Easy to Love." Had the entire picture lived...read more
There's a truly wonderful, fanciful moment in the middle of LIFE STINKS where the homeless billionaire Goddard Bolt (Mel Brooks) grabs Molly (Lesley Ann Warren), a winsome but streetwise bag lady, in his arms and the two swirl across the floor of a delapidated building to the charming
strains of Cole Porter's "Easy to Love." Had the entire picture lived up to that one inspired sequence, LIFE STINKS might have been a minor classic in the tradition of Brooks' own THE PRODUCERS. As it is, the film is a better than average but uneven affair.
Bolt is an incredibly greedy, selfish and arrogant individual who, due to his own immense ego--just call him God for short--gets sidetracked from his plans to build Bolt City, a gigantic real estate complex in downtown Los Angeles which would prevent the homeless from having even a park bench,
gutter or back alley where they can lay their heads. Standing in his way is Vance Crasswell (Jeffery Tambor), a rival developer with a similar development in mind who's even more conniving and sinister than Bolt. This wickedly brilliant entrepreneur tricks Bolt into accepting a wager that
he--Bolt--won't be able to survive for 30 days in the city's slums without his wallet, connections, driver's license or any other form of identification. Should Bolt win, Crasswell will withdraw from his own development project. But, should Bolt lose, Crasswell becomes the man of the hour; he'll
take over Bolt's dream city.
Brooks's career dates back to the seminal "Your Show of Shows" in the early 50s, where he toiled as a sketch writer alongside the likes of Neil Simon and Woody Allen. Part of a new post-vaudeville, TV generation of comedians, Brooks first branched into movies with the Academy Award-winning
animated short THE CRITIC in 1963. After creating the successful "Get Smart" TV series with Buck Henry in 1965, Brooks made his feature debut with THE PRODUCERS in 1968. His career reached its zenith with the release of both BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN in 1974, broad, hugely popular
send-ups of the Western and horror genres, respectively. In recent years, the taste for Brooks's brand of ethnic, slapstick and frequently scatological humor has waned dramatically.
Often annoyingly vulgar and crude, LIFE STINKS is partly redeemed by Brooks's good intentions. He and his associates have attempted, sometimes with great success, sometimes not, to illustrate the difference between decency and deceit as well as the painfully thin line that separates pleasure and
happiness from degradation and despair. Typically, he tells his story in broad strokes and some of the individual sequences are masterful. Unfortunately, other scenes seem needlessly depressing and drawn out or just downright tasteless.
Brooks has managed to glean good to terrific performances from his supporting cast. Warren is particularly memorable as the feisty and street-smart bag lady who teaches Brooks how to survive penniless on the streets. A romance blossoms and the result provides the film with both its highest--and
lowest--point. The "high" being the "Easy to Love" dance sequence. The "low" immediately follows when the now uncontrollably aroused Goddard frantically peels away Molly's innumerable layers of clothing ... coat by coat, blouse by blouse and, finally, button by button.
Tambor is in top form as the unredeemable real estate entrepreneur out to destroy Goddard. Other players include Howard Morris as a disease-ridden, dying oldtimer nicknamed Sailor, Teddy Wilson as a staggering alcoholic called Fumes and the veteran Billy Barty as a legless little man named Willy:
all of them contribute in one way or another to Bolt's slowly budding humanity. One of the funniest bits is a running gag in which Bolt has a continuing argument with a crazy man who thinks he's J. Paul Getty--co-screenwriter Rudy DeLuca in a fine, fully fleshed-out character turn. (Violence,substance abuse, profanity, adult situations.)
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