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Movie Review

Sledgehammer Humor and Numskulls

May 15, 2000|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Screwed": That's exactly what you're likely to feel if you try to watch this relentlessly unfunny loser, a candidate for the short list of the year's worst major studio release.

Pros like Elaine Stritch and Danny DeVito are always fun, but even their presence can't make a dent in this disaster.

Amazingly enough, it was written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who have "The People vs. Larry Flynt" and "Man on the Moon" to their credit--and, alas, chose to make their directorial debut with this picture.

Their premise is that in these prosperous times a chauffeur-houseman (Norm Macdonald) would stick it out 15 years working for an imperious, cranky Pittsburgh cookie tycoon, Miss Crock (Stritch), who's such a skinflint that Macdonald's Willard is still wearing the same uniform he inherited from his late father along with the job. At last reaching the end of his tether, Willard decides to snatch his employer's cherished little dog and hold it for a huge ransom.

Naturally, the scheme misfires big time, with Willard and his pal Rusty (Dave Chappelle) getting into increasingly bigger trouble.

Now Willard and Rusty are none too bright, to put it kindly, and while many a comedy has turned upon the antics of numskulls, these two are colorless and charmless and simply too stupid and dull to care about. Dummies have to seem somehow endearing if we're to be concerned with what happens to them, but this pair is hopeless.

Sherman Hemsley is Miss Crock's top aide and DeVito is a weirdo morgue worker who also happens to be an officer of the Jack Lord Fan Club. Daniel Benzali is the police detective trying to sort everything out.

Alexander and Karaszewski bring a sledgehammer touch to their script, which does it no favors. The only smart thing about "Screwed" was Universal's decision not to screen the picture in advance for the news media so as to avoid scalding opening-day reviews.

* MPAA-rating: PG-13, for crude sex-related humor, nudity, language, some violence and brief drug content. Times guidelines: All these elements are fairly mild.

'Screwed'

Norm Macdonald: Willard Fillmore

Dave Chappelle: Rusty P. Hayes

Elaine Stritch: Miss Crock

Sherman Hemsley: Chip Oswald

Danny DeVito: Grover Cleaver

A Universal Pictures presentation. Writers-directors Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski. Producer Robert Simonds. Executive producers Brad Grey, Ray Reo. Cinematographer Robert Brinkmann. Editor Michael Jablow. Music Michel Colombier. Costumes Maya Mani. Production designer Mark Freeborn. Art director Sandi Tanaka. Set decorator Rose Marie McSherry. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.

In general release.

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