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"Kids in the Hall's 'Candy' Brainy, Strained"

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Chicago Tribune
By Michael Wilmington

Sometimes virtuoso acting displays can become an end in themselves. And that may be what's happened to "Brain Candy," an alternately brainy and strained comedy that marks the first joint feature film of the Canadian sketch group, Kids in the Hall.

Dividing 24 roles among themselves -- in a sometimes clever science-fiction satire about a happiness drug called Gleemonex that unravels the world -- the Kids turn themselves into a five-man comic army. But, in some ways, they lose the war.

The story, co-written by four of the Kids, is a cautionary tale that suggests you can't safely drug yourself into euphoria -- though corporations may spend millions trying to brainwash you into thinking you can.

In the addled world of "Brain Candy," where Gleemonex is rushed onto the market before adequate testing to save the company from financial catastrophe, happiness itself is dangerous. Joy can be a sign of brainless sappy conformity, bad easy-listening pop ballads, corporate propaganda or pathetic self-delusion. Most of "Brain Candy's" characters smile continuously, faking it or lost in their own dream lands. Maybe that's why the movie is narrated by a grouch: a pedestrian-hating emigre cabbie played by Mark McKinney.

Everywhere you look, there's another Kid: Kevin McDonald as Chris Cooper, the likable young scientist who invents Gleemonex; Mark McKinney as Dan Roritor, the pharmaceutical tycoon who exploits it; David Foley as Roritor's brown-nosing yuppie yes-man Marv; Bruce McCulloch as a slimy marketing whiz named Cisco; and Scott Thompson as a closeted gay suburbanite who keeps getting caught in vice raids. McKinney pops up again as a smiley lady talk-show host, McCulloch as Chris' scientist girlfriend Alice, Thompson as a lovable grandmother named Mrs. Hurdicure who's an early Gleemonex casualty.

It's an impressive display. The Kids leap across age and sexual boundaries (though few ethnic ones). And, even if you're familiar with their gigs on Comedy Central, their range here may surprise you. Especially McKinney and Thompson, who take on six parts apiece.

But are they spreading themselves around too much? A lot of us fondly remember Alec Guinness as all eight murder victims in 1949's "Kind Hearts and Coronets," or Peter Sellers' triple de force in "Dr. Strangelove" or Jerry Lewis' many split-personality '60s movies. But what if those shows had consisted of nothing but multiple role-players?

There's a repetitive, incestuous quality to some of "Brain Candy," and when real women show up in crowd scenes, they make some of the guys in female parts look like drag queens. After a while, you begin to long for a new Kid. Or a different Hall.

"Brain Candy" does have one first-class comic performance: McKinney, the tall Kid who won a 1990 CableAce award and graduated in 1995 to "Saturday Night Live," wrings delightful malice from his role as drug company CEO Don Roritor. A tight-lipped, natty, bespectacled, deranged tyrant, striding imperiously through sets that remind you of "The Hudsucker Proxy," McKinney's Roritor is a stinging portrait of corporate paranoia, with Foley's James Spader-esque Marv a good foil. And Thompson's hapless Mrs. Hurdicure is sometimes funny and touching.

But maybe the boiling zaniness of sketch comedy can't easily be maintained at feature-movie length -- despite the examples of Monty Python and the Marx Brothers.

"Brain Candy" director Kelly Makin guided many Kids in the Hall TV segments. But he also perpetrated "National Lampoon's Senior Trip" (co-starring McDonald), one of the worst movies I saw last year. "Brain Candy" is much better than "Senior Trip" -- but that's no brain-taxing achievement. There are TV real estate commercials that are better, and funnier, than "Senior Trip."

Still, "Brain Candy" has lots of rubber-faced versatility and a sharp message: Laugh and the world laughs with you (as long as you're a Kid in the Hall); frown and you may survive the media and the drug companies.

"BRAIN CANDY" (star) (star)
Directed by Kelly Makin; written by Norm Hiscock, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson; photographed by David A. Makin; edited by Christopher Cooper; production designed by Gregory P. Keen; music by Craig Northey; produced by Lorne Michaels. A Paramount Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:29. MPAA rating: R. Language, sensuality, nudity, violence.

THE CAST
Marv/Psychiatrist/ Suicidal Businessman/New Guy................David Foley
Alice/Grivo/Cisco/ Cop/White Trash Man.....................Bruce McCulloch
Chris Cooper/Dad/Doreen..................Kevin McDonald
Dan Roritor/Simon/Nina/Cabbie/White Trash Woman/German Patient..........Mark McKinney
Wally/Mrs. Hurdicure/Baxter/ Malek/Clemptor/The Queen...........Scott Thompson

 

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