In 1991, between “Spaceballs” and “Robin Hood: Men In Tights”, the legendary Mel Brooks released LIFE STINKS to little fanfare and dismal ticket sales.
Moviegoers looking for the big laughs of “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein” were likely a bit baffled by Brooks going for softer comedy with a message.
It starts off like a typical Mel film, with Brooks and his broad performance as Billionaire real estate mogul Goddard Bolt. Loaded with sight gags, twirling mustaches and lawyer jokes, we learn that Bolt has a master plan to turn a massive area of Los Angeles worst slums into a futuristic neighborhood to rival Beverly Hills.
Competing real estate titan Vance Craswell (Jeffrey Tambor of “The Larry Sanders Show” at his best) also has major plans for the same area and the two men enter a simple wager. If Bolt can live with no money, none of his resources and never leave the area for 30 days, Craswell will surrender his claim to half the property. If Bolt fails, Craswell gets all the land.
Bolt is dropped in the middle of the slums and the clock starts ticking, not only for Bolt, but for us as moviegoers. It’s all a bit slow and hampered by some of the stereotypes in the Brooks script. The hit and miss ratio of the laughs are especially low as it lumbers along for 92 minutes that feel a lot more like two hours.
But Brooks being Brooks, there are some moments of hilarity when the bits land. Lesley Ann Warren all but steals the movie as bag lady Molly. Bolt’s Three Stooges-like physical fights with Rudy DeLuca as a homeless J Paul Getty are laugh out loud battles. Teddy Wilson, a veteran of every 70s cop drama you can think of, brings laughs and heart as Fumes.
But by the time Craswell and Bolt are battling each other with giant bulldozers dubbed with the sounds of a King Kong fight, it’s gone seriously off the rails.
I’ll give Brooks credit for aa attempt at a darker blend of humor, but sadly the best moments belong to his usual schtick. As an actor, it’s probably Brooks best dramatic work, he’s actually really good as Bolt (Pepto!?) in the serious moments of the film’s last half.
If not Brooks worst film, it certainly wallows near the bottom and unfortunately the title is all too appropriate. LIFE STINKS gets a C-.