Friday, April 23, 2010

My Unified Theory of 'Saturday Night Live' Movies

I have a charticle out in the May issue of Maxim magazine on the illustrious history of films made from Saturday Night Live sketches. One thing I didn't get around to discussing in that piece was that it is very easy to tell whether an SNL movie will be any good or not. It's a simple question: Does the movie take place in and around Chicago? If so, it will be worth watching. If not, well, consider that It's Pat! took place a continent away, in Los Angeles.

Everyone's favorite SNL movie is either The Blues Brothers - set in the Chicagoland area, from Joliet up to the Wisconsin border - or Wayne's World, set in Aurora, which is fairly described as an exurb. Wayne's World 2 was not so much a sequel as a remake of Wayne's World, and it's also set in Aurora.

Then there's Stuart Saves His Family, in which Stuart Smalley lives in Chicago but has to commute back to Minnesota to help his alcoholic father and brother, enabling mother, and overeating sister. Believe it or not, it's the most serious of these movies - Stuart stages an intervention for his dad near the end of the film, seemingly setting up a happy ending, but it doesn't take, and his father continues being an alcoholic butthead. Harsh.

Finally, The Ladies' Man is slight but essentially goodhearted and funny. I don't expect you to believe me, but there it is. It takes place entirely in Chicago. You could argue that none of these movies is exactly McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and you'd be right, but they will all keep you entertained if you stumble across them on TBS late one night.

On the other side of the ledger, we have:

* The Coneheads, set in Paramus, New Jersey, and the planet Remulak. The Coneheads got tiresome by the end of their five-minute sketches; you won't want to spend 90 minutes with them. Plus, not funny.

* It's Pat!, set in Los Angeles. It's Pat! isn't quite as bad as its reputation, basically because of Dave Foley, who as Pat's love interest Chris matches him/her androgyne for androgyne. The costume designer who had to dress Chris neutrally through the whole movie - coming up with design after design that never gave his/her gender away - deserved an Oscar nomination. But whiny, needy, self-centered Pat is just so unpleasant to be around.

* Superstar: The Mary Katherine Gallagher Story, set in someplace called Besame Heights, which seemed to me to be somewhere in Molly Shannon's native Ohio. No one ever thought this would be any good, did they?

* A Night at the Roxbury, set in Los Angeles. If you didn't know better, you might think it was a drama, because it goes for long stretches where you won't even know what they intended to be funny. A bad drama.

* Blues Brothers 2000 smartly starts out in Chicago, then quickly meanders away for a cross-country trip to Louisiana. No movie ever had less reason to exist.

There's a new SNL movie coming out, Macgruber, with Will Forte. I don't know where it's set, but if I were you , I'd find out.


  1. And don't forget another mark of a great SNL film -- awesome cameos.

    Wayne's World had Chris Farley, Ed O'Neill, Alice Cooper. And WW2 even had Charlton Heston! Blues Brothers, well, Carrie Fisher, Twiggy, Steven Spielberg, Aretha Franklin...

    Not feeling the kick-ass cameos from Macgruber -- plus, IMDB says it's being filmed in New Mexico. Hardly a Chicago stand-in.

  2. "The Ladies' Man" has Billy Dee Williams.