Jeff Smith noon, March 8
Board Games Hollywood's Latest Tonic to Mollify Bored Viewers?
In the wake of the dumbing-down effects brought about by the rumination-free amusement park thrill rides of Spielberg and Lucas, Hollywood power-brokers struck a creative reef in the late-70s that they have yet to extricate themselves from. Realizing that childhood (and childishness) sells, major studios desperate for product to fill screens (and line box office coffers), went looking for inspiration in all the wrong places.
First there were feature-length movies based on three-minute 45 rpm records (Ode to Billy Joe, You Light Up My Life, Take This Job and Shove It). The '80's brought about a rise in films drawn from the funny papers and comic books (Popeye, Heavy Metal, Howard the Duck, Sheena, Red Sonja). Not surprisingly, the video boom of the '90's saw a (mercifully) brief surge in gamy kidpics that allowed gamers access to the rich backstories of their favorite characters, now playing at a multiplex near them in color and with staggered showtimes. How is it that Super Mario Brothers, Mortal Kombat, and Pokemon: The Movie all escaped my critical gaze?
We still have big screen comic books to contend with, only now they are based on graphic novels or manga. (A pig by any other name!) Just when you thought Hollywood's quest for "original" source material had overturned every conceivable rock, there must have been a bank error in Ridley Scott's favor because the suits at Universal (Universal Hasbro?) gave the green light for a theatrical version of the venerable board game Monopoly. Do not pass "Go," fellas, find a direct route to jail, and there will be no yellow Community Chest card to bail you out!
This crime against cinema was never perpetrated, but the success of the Transformers series fortified and encouraged Hasbro. Three years ago it appeared as though movie theatres were poised to become Toys 'R Us outlet stores. (As if Lucas and his cohorts at Kenner hadn't already seen to that.) Universal struck a deal with Hasbro to turn several of their properties, including Battleship and Michael Bay's Oujia, into feature films. Battleship is due to come out later this year, and with the exception of a trio of Transformers and a pair of My Little Pony straight-to-video releases, the only other Hasbro picture to make a dent was G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra.
Monopoly would not have been the first board game given a 35mm unveiling (remember Clue?) nor would it have been the last. After years of languishing in development at Universal, Hasbro announced that Candy Land has moved to Columbia Pictures, with Adam Sandler slated to star and produce via his production company, Happy Madison.
According to the rules, the game requires no reading, just a rudimentary knowledge of basic colors. This should be a cinch for Sandler and the crack team of Crayola-clutching screenwriters over at happy Madison! Given the game's minimum age requirement, this could be the first film ever to receive a PG-3 rating.
All facetiousness aside, the only glimmer of hope is that Robert Smigel's name is attached as one of the screenwriters. Smigel is the genius behind the animated TV Funhouse segments on SNL, aka the best thing the show has going for it since Bill Murray left the cast. (The trip inside the Disney Vaults is a spot-on satire with enough buried in-jokes to please even the most demanding viewer.) The bad news is, Smigel also co-wrote You Don't Mess with the Zohan.
Here's hoping Candy Land is one-tenth as sweet as what follows. Unless you were born and bred on WGN's Bozo's Circus, chances are much of what follows will sail over your head. Prozo's Circus is a pitch-perfect assault on Bob Bell's Chesterfield-throated incarnation of Bozo the Clown, as well as the sharpest impersonation of a beloved childhood favorite since Dave Thomas' Bob Hope or Billy West's Gen. Larry Fine. For this reason alone, Robert Smigel deserves a permanent place in the Comedy Hall of Fame.