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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Madhouse' a Satire That Misses the Mark

February 21, 1990|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

In "Madhouse" (playing citywide), writer-director Tom Ropelewski takes a nifty idea--a young couple attacked by hordes of maddening house guests--and wears out his own welcome with it.

John Larroquette and Kirstie Alley are the film's Mark and Jessie Bannister, a yuppie couple whose money, home and high-profile jobs (he's a financial adviser, she's a TV reporter) contrast with the alleged low-lifes who move in with them.

The Bannisters' tale is done in bright colors, at a savage screaming pitch. At one point, there's a dream sequence where Ropelewski compares invading guests to George Romero's Living Dead, a parade of monochrome sleep-walking ghouls who claw their way through the walls. That's the way he sees guests, horrible pests who want to suck in your last drop of blood.

First, there's Mark's cousin Fred (John Diehl), a stud turned schlemiel, and his harridan, supposedly pregnant wife, Bernice (Jessica Lundy). Then there's Jessie's money-grubbing sister (Alison LaPlaca) and her cocaine-addled son. The people next door take up residence when the Bannisters accidentally burn down their neighbors' house. The battalion of interlopers commandeer the bedrooms, gobble up the food and drive the Bannisters to the lawn with a tent and portable toilet.

If this yuppie nightmare isn't too funny, it may be because there's something soggy in its viewpoint. Satire needs to draw blood; this one is mean-spirited but wields a rubber blade. Neighbors and guests alike are cruelly caricatured, suggesting that everybody is venal, nuts or annoying except the central couple, whose generosity is killing them. But this "You and me against the world, babe" attitude has the reverse effect.

"Madhouse" grabs you by the lapels and tries to shake the laughs out of you. But it's never very funny, despite the best efforts of that facile TV farceur Larroquette and the sexiest contortions of Kirstie Alley. By the end, when they're dragging in circus elephants, coke busts and SWAT squads, it's chaos in search of a paroxysm.

'MADHOUSE'

An Orion Pictures release of a Boy of the Year production. Producer Leslie Dixon. Director/Script Tom Ropelewski. Co-Producer Donald C. Klune. Camera Denis Lewiston. cq Production design Dan Leigh. Editor Michael Jablow. Music David Newman. With John Larroquette, Kirstie Alley, Alison LaPlaca. John Diehl, Jessica Lundy, Bradley Gregg, Robert Ginty.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

MPAA rating: PG-13 (parents are strongly cautioned; some material may be inappropriate for children under 13).

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