Eric Idle earned several careers' worth of goodwill through his stint with Monty Python, but his stockpile of warm vibes has depleted as he's cannibalized seemingly every aspect of his golden age, most infamously with a solo theatrical tour that replaced his fellow Pythonites with a platoon of anonymous, affordable troupers. While the other Pythons have moved on, Idle seems stuck in the past, like a lonely bachelor perpetually trying to round up the old gang for a boozy trip back to the high-school football field long after his buddies have settled into domesticity. Idle's pillaging of his past finally seems to have paid off thanks to the buzz surrounding Spamalot, a musical Monty Python And The Holy Grail adaptation that looks destined to jet Idle from vaguely embarrassing has-been to money-making toast of Broadway, like Mel Brooks a few years back.
Thanks to Spamalot, it's tempting to view the long-shelved Rutles 2: Can't Buy Me Lunch in a more flattering light, as a misstep on the road to artistic redemption rather than a cynical attempt to wring a few dollars out of a comedy brand nearly as revered and venerable as Monty Python's. If Can't Buy Me Lunch were included as a bonus feature on a deluxe edition of The Rutles, its slapdash, self-indulgent recycling of existing footage would be annoying but forgivable. However, packaging it as a proper sequel and standalone film creates expectations it can't begin to live up to. It's bad enough that Can't Buy Me Lunch constantly rehashes gags from the first film. But it's even worse that writer-director-producer-star Idle simply repeats a lot of footage from the original film, sometimes in the form of naggingly familiar "outtakes," and sometimes with alternate music pasted on. In place of the original's seamless, organic, loving spoof of the Beatles, Idle substitutes a motley, artlessly constructed assemblage of old footage, outtakes, new narration, and awkwardly improvised new interviews featuring some of the biggest names in the Rolodex of executive producer Lorne Michaels: Conan O'Brien, Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, and David Bowie, just for starters. The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash was a Beatles satire by people who clearly loved and understood their source material and bothered to get the details right. Rutles 2 qualifies as little more than an overly reverent tribute to the 1978 original, and it barely bothers with the details at all. (Robin Williams' footage, in particular, looks as if it belongs in a different film, though nagging aesthetic concerns are always a secondary irritation when dealing with Williams.) Granted, The Rutles 2 features an all-star lineup of big names eager to show that they're in on the joke, but so did Pauly Shore Is Dead. And it's doubtful that's the kind of company Idle wishes to keep.