A Whole Lotta Kids in the Hall

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"The Kids on the Screen:
Brain Candy vaults the Kids in the Hall into movies"

This review is property of its writer and publication and is reprinted here without permission.

the college hill independent
By Eric Raskin

There are two basic types of comedy: safe and dangerous. These words don't necessarily reflect subject matter, as merely dealing with racy topics does not make for comedy of the dangerous variety. This distinction is all about delivery and risk, whether the comedy is safely packaged and handed to the audience or dangerously hidden in the corner, waiting for the audience unwrap it themselves. Examples of safe comedy would be Friends , or The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, not necessarily bad shows, but not very challenging shows either--sometimes you can see an "Uncle Phil is fat and bald" joke being set up about three minutes before the punchline actually arrives. On the other hand, there is the ultimate example of dangerous comedy: The Kids in the Hall.

Throughout their six-year run on HBO, CBS, and Comedy Central, the Toronto-born Kids (Dave Foley, Bruce McCullough[sic], Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson) almost never made it easy for their viewers. There were sketches where everyone was essentially the straight man and nobody was really trying to be funny. There were sketches without a straight man where it was almost impossible to find the humor beneath the clutter of nonsense. Hell, there were sketches that didn't have a punch-line. But once you've seen the Kids enough, it becomes clear that that, in itself, is the punch-line. It is no easy task becoming a Kids in the Hall fan, but once you do, you skip right over the label of "fan" and straight into the role of "addict."

Unfortunately, abstract, unsafe comedy just doesn't sell all that well to the masses. So when it was announced that the Kids were doing a wide-release full-length film, most Kids addicts initially feared a sell out--that the Kids couldn't possibly expect to please the Hollywood execs' hunger for money with a 90-minute version of one of their outlandish sketches. But to the delight of their admirers, that's exactly what they did, although whether the movie, Brain Candy, will be a box-office windfall has yet to be seen.

Brain Candy is, to those who need justification for their comedy, a satirical view of both the corporate world and of the human desire to eliminate depression. But to those who just need laughter as justification, the film chronicles the hilarious story of a young scientist forced by his project's funders to market his anti-depressant before he finishes testing it. The varied effects the drug has on people from all walks of life form the humorous sequences of the film.

McDonald plays the scientist, Chris Cooper, with incomparable sheepishness, while McKinney is amazing as Don Roritor, the corporate kingpin who is feared by all his underlings and pitied by all the viewers. If McKinney's Roritor sounds a little like The Simpsons' Mr. Burns, then Foley's wonderfully dry Marv is a lot like Smithers, only without the insinuation of gay love for his boss.

McCullough plays Alice, one of Dr. Cooper's lab assistants who is in fact in love with the man who created the happiness pill, and Thompson has two main roles--elderly drug guinea pig Mrs. Hurdicure and homosexual-in-denial family man Wally. All told, the Kids play more than 40 characters between them, and it is this constant barrage of new but familiar faces which, in conjunction with a surprisingly well-sustained plot, makes Brain Candy work so well for anyone who appreciates the Kids' brand of humor.

Cancer Boy
Within the subplots, however, the Kids really get to shine in something more closely resembling their sketch-comedy form. Wally's tale begins with his wife returning home from work and asking their children where their father is, only to hear the teenage brother and sister reply straight-faced, "He's upstairs masturbating to gay porn." After taking the anti-depressant, Wally comes to terms with his sexuality and his family cheers when he runs downstairs to tell them what they obviously already knew.

Brain Candy is, to those who need justification for their comedy, a satirical view of both the corporate world and of the human desire to eliminate depression.

McCullough also shines as Cancer Boy, a dying wheelchair-bound youth who goes from rejoicing in meeting Cooper, the inventor of his life-improving drug, to eventually becoming a pop star nominated for video music awards. Cancer Boy's voice is almost identical to the one McCullough used for years in playing annoying youngster Gavin on the show. McCullough also semi-reprises his recurring role as a metal-head by playing a Jim Morrison-like frontman who alienates his fans when the happiness drug leads him to write "Happiness Pie," an acoustic ballad which earns this character some video music awards as well. McCullough was always the funniest Kid, the one capable of making people laugh by just walking leisurely down the street, and he clearly hasn't lost a step.

Hard to swallow
In fact, the other Kids seem to have gained a step, as Thompson, McKinney, and McDonald, are all more consistently funny in Brain Candy than they ever were on The Kids in the Hall. Foley, busy with his NBC hit NewsRadio, was the only Kid who didn't co-write the film, which may explain why he was given the least amount of on-screen attention. But, then again, Foley excels at understatement (see the scene in which, as Mrs. Hurdicure's son, he visits his mother for Christmas and, with no inflection, remarks, "So, I hear Dad died"), making him the one Kid who can be out of the spotlight and still seem as integral to the film as the other four Kids.

When all is said and done, though, Brain Candy is a film which most moviegoers simply won't be able to digest. If you've never really seen The Kids in the Hall, it seems unlikely that you could really enjoy this picture. It has its moments of safe comedy which Joe Ticketbuyer may laugh at, but, for the most part, the jokes are dangerous and not inherently funny if you don't already feel like the Kids are your five best friends. However, if your best pals are named Dave, Bruce, Kevin, Mark, and Scott, then Brain Candy is an absolute can't-miss comedy which knows and respects its true target audience.


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