Whole lot of stupidity going on at the movies these days, which is not altogether unusual. What's different is that dumbness is so often a film's subject, not merely the prime cause of its being made. Forrest Gump is poised to win a bunch of Oscars for sweetly celebrating an imbecile, and Jim Carrey stands on the brink of superstardom for satirizing a certain type of idiocy-the kind that actually thinks it's smart-in Dumb and Dumber. A couple of weeks ago, Billy Madison, the story of a rich moron forced to repeat all the grades (1 through 12) he had flunked, and one of the most execrable movies ever made, was No. 1 at the box office. Last week a comedy about a dim American family, The Brady Bunch Movie, succeeded Billy at the top of the charts.
Quivers of alarm in all the best places! First the bellowing inanity of talk radio, then the meanest political season anyone can remember and now this goofball assault on the higher sensibility. Are we confronting the death of civilization as we know it? Maybe yes, maybe no. But before you choose door No. 1, here are three simple, ultimately consoling exercises to try.
1) Count backward on your fingers, letting each stand for a month. Stop around 15 or 16, and then recall which movie was about to gross an astonishing $100 million back then. That's right, folks, it was Wayne's World. Now calculate how long it takes for the competition to crank up hit imitations. Oh, something like 15 to 16 months. All movie trends begin in the yearning hearts of producers who missed the first boat.
2) Remember the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, Inspector Clouseau and Jerry Lewis when he was still willing to cross his eyes and gibber simultaneously. A little historical-perspective music, maestro, if you please: everybody has always laughed-and always will-at dumb and childish behavior. It makes us feel better when we remember all the times we've acted dumb and childish. And the Billy Madisons aside, it's infinitely preferable to so-called wit that deteriorates into Ready to Wear snottiness.
3) Go see The Brady Bunch Movie. Its largest aim, of course, is to encourage aging boomers to nostalgize over the television programs that warped their childhood. But Sherwood Schwartz, who created the show back in 1969 (and also contributed Gilligan's Island to American thought and culture), is no dope. He has encouraged a legion of producers and writers (and one quick-witted director, Betty Thomas) to another kind of warping-time warping. They've moved the Bradys-lock, stock and retro-moderne suburban home-into the 1990s and invited them to confront the world of carjackings, alternative life-styles and grunge with their serene, antique innocence.