Screw Loose

The proudly scatological, taboo-shattering cinema of tastelessness pioneered by Mel Brooks in The Producers and Blazing Saddles may be reaching its cultural apex, but Brooks himself now looks like a throwback, a hammy neo-vaudevillian the world has passed by. Never a particularly subtle performer, Brooks long ago devolved into self-parody, a process that continues with Screw Loose, a 1999 Italian comedy that marks his first starring role since 1990's Life Stinks. Though top-billed, Brooks doesn't turn up in Screw Loose until a half-hour in, but once he finally appears, he does everything short of dry-humping the camera to ensure that he remains the center of attention. Written by frequent Brooks collaborators Rudy De Luca and Steve Haberman, Screw Loose stars Italian comedian Ezio Greggio (who also directed) as the bumbling but good-hearted son of excitable health-food magnate Gianfranco Barra. After Barra suffers an inevitable heart attack, he requests that Greggio travel to America to hunt down Brooks, who saved his life during WWII, and give him half his company. Introduced singing, dancing, making duck noises, hitting an old woman on the head, and jumping out a window—all within a single scene—Brooks plays the sort of lovable, life-affirming crazy person who would have seemed hopelessly anachronistic years ago. Subscribing to a view of gender politics, homosexuality, and mental illness that can charitably be described as outdated, Screw Loose then sends the two to France, where they engage in a game of slapstick one-upmanship in which no bit is too obvious or familiar and no scenery is left unchewed. As a vehicle for the good-natured comic stylings of Greggio, Screw Loose is hopelessly broad, lazy, and underdeveloped. As a film-length argument for a mandatory retirement age for slapstick comics, it's all too convincing.

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