Since 1993's "Loaded Weapon 1," the once-lucrative National Lampoon's name brand has significantly faded in both quality and inspiration, with a few low-wattage theatrical releases (1995's "Senior Trip," 2002's "Van Wilder
") mixed in with disposable direct-to-video fare (2002's "Repli-Kate," 2003's "Dorm Daze"). The series smashes into its nadir with "National Lampoon's Gold Diggers," a crass, hateful product of loathsome characters and an even uglier story. That only one laugh is earned in its interminable 87 minutes isn't surprising; it is safe to say no one going into this movie will have the highest of expectations. What is shocking, however, is that such a cesspool of nothingness has found its way into theaters at all.
Calvin (Will Friedle) and Leonard (Chris Owen), best friends since their days in an orphanage together, are now young men in search of financial glory. Their embarrassing attempts at thieveryLeonard tries to steal a woman's watch and accidentally pulls off her artificial armearn them the title of "World's Dumbest Criminals" in the local newspaper. For lonely sixty-somethings Doris (Louise Lasser) and Betty Mundt (Renee Taylor), who beat up Calvin and Leonard when they were the subjects of an attempted robbery, these two fools are the answers to their prayers. Recently left out of their Uncle Walt's (Rudy DeLuca) family fortunewho invented condoms while working at a sausage factorythe newly-broke Doris and Betty scheme to marry Calvin and Leonard, get them insurance policies, and then kill them for the money. Meanwhile, Calvin and Leonard mistakenly believe Doris and Betty are loaded, and decide to wait out their deaths for the money.
Written and directed with no sense of comic timing by Gary Preisley (not that the painfully lame jokes concocted in the screenplay could work under any circumstance), "National Lampoon's Gold Diggers" is a motion picture built on greed and immorality. Such topics could work as successful comedic fodder, but there is no sense of true goodness or regret found in any of the leads, not even as they leave a string of unsuspecting victims in body bags. Watching an hour-and-a-half of despicable human beings out to get money through murderin a comedyworked in 1987's "Throw Momma From the Train" and 2003's "Duplex
" because their wicked perversity was offset by an almost deserving human target and a sense of quirky, skewed fun. The people who bite the dust in "National Lampoon's Gold Diggers" are innocent bystanders, their deaths treated like jokes at the expense of four careless people who don't think twice about the awful deeds they have committed. For that, and for its unbelievable ability to ratchet some of the most tasteless cinematic jokes of the year and still fit within the confines of the MPAA's twisted idea of what warrants a PG-13 rating, the time spent viewing the picture is simply reprehensible.
Will Friedle (TV's "Boy Meets World"), playing dirt-bag Calvin, confuses grand body gestures and overly pronounced line-readings as keys to garnering laughs. Chris Owen (Sherminator in 1999's "American Pie
" and its 2001 first sequel
) is a little better, if only because he allows his character to have glimpses of a fleeting conscience. One heart-to-heart scene between Owen and Louise Lasser (1998's "Happiness
") is awkward but sweet, a jarring characteristic otherwise missing, that lifts it barely about the "Zero Stars" level. As for Lasser and Renee Taylor, as the elderly Doris and Betty, they are humiliated and disrespected in the name of thoroughly unfunny sexual shtick mistaken for thought-to-be comedy. Lasser french-kisses Owen's nose in one throwaway, while she handcuffs Owen to a bed and dresses him up like a sundae too many times for comfort. Taylor, meanwhile, dresses as a dominatrix, her fading body treated as the funniest sight director Gary Preisler has ever seen.
With scene after scene drug out with the type of uncomfortably long pauses in speech director Martin Brest (1998's "Meet Joe Black
") would eat up, Preisler drains his every moment of energy and comic snap. In its place is a viciousness that is sickening. "National Lampoon's Gold Diggers" will, indeed, die a quick, painless death in theaters and once it is mercilessly released on DVD. The pain involved for those few foolish patrons who opt to subject themselves at allmyself includedwill, ultimately, not be nearly as simple and kind.