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Overall Rating
2.66

Awesome: 8.57%
Worth A Look: 8.57%
Average42.86%
Pretty Bad: 20%
Total Crap: 20%

4 reviews, 11 user ratings


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Strangers With Candy
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Sedaris and Co. Come Up With a Complete Comedic Blank"
1 stars

Seen on cable television in the form of 22-minute bursts, “Strangers With Candy,” the Comedy Central cult hit that spoofed all those sappily sincere After-School Specials that we barely remember watching back in the 1970's, was an occasionally amusing bit of weirdness that usually contained one or two hilarious bits per episode. Now “Strangers With Candy” has made it to the big screen in a film that is roughly four times the length of a normal episode but which unfortunately does not contain a similar multiple of laughs. As a result, the film is, for the most part, a smug and dreary slog through largely unfunny material that is likely to completely bewilder newcomers while testing the patience of even the most loyal fans of the show.

Conceived as a prequel to the series, the film opens with 46-year-old Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris) returning home after 30-odd years of sordid living to discover that her mother is dead (ha-ha!), a heretofore unknown stepmother (Deborah Rush) is running the household while carrying on with the local meat man and her father (Dan Hedaya) has been in a coma since the day his beloved daughter took off. When Dr. Putney (Ian Holm), the longtime family physician (“I delivered you. I still have the scars.”), suggests that she do something impressive in order to jolt him out of his sleep, Jerri decides that she will pick up her life from the exact place where she strayed and re-enrolls in her old high school. This might seem a bit odd but since the school is little more than a looney bin run by the thoroughly corrupt Principal Onyx Blackmon (Greg Hollimon) and presided over by a group of nutty teachers, Jerri winds up fitting right surprisingly well.

What passes for a plot is inspired by the announcement from a pair of Board of Education goons (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Allison Janney) that if someone from the school doesn’t win the upcoming science fair, Blackmon will have to return all state money that he received and already pissed away. Since science teacher Chuck Noblet (Stephen Colbert) is a barely closeted religious freak who uses the Bible as a textbook (“Evolution is a farce!”), Blackmon decides to ensure victory by bringing in star science teacher Dr. Roger Beekman (Matthew Broderick) to crank out a presentation that is short on actual substance but long on flash and sizzle. Noblet decides to put together his own competing project with a group consisting of the school’s few smart kids–Megawatti Sucarnaputri (Carlo Alban), Tammi Littlenut (Maria Thayer) and a few Asians not deemed worthy of funny names–and Jerri winds up getting thrown into the group as well. Against all odds, the group hits upon a brilliant project and the popular kids in Beekman’s group scheme to get a hold of their plans by getting the campus stud to pretend to like Jerri in an effort to steal the blueprints that have been entrusted to her. Inevitably, Jerri lets her friends down, learns a valuable lesson or two and somehow figures out a way to save the day and provide everyone with a happy ending.

While the above description may seem rather tiresome, it is nothing compared to the experience of watching it play out for 97 agonizing minutes. The idea of a prequel to “Strangers With Candy” sounds like a promising way to fill in the blanks of the Jerri Blank story–perhaps an expansion of what sent her astray in the first place or some of the weirder moments of her 30-year walk on the wild side. Instead, co-writers Sedaris, Colbert and Paul Dinello, the creators of the original show, have taken the cheap way out by not expanding on the premise in any significant way. Instead, they have simply given us a rehash of old material that just never catches fire this time around and their big inspiration this time around seems to have been the idea of getting a bunch of their famous friends (besides the aforementioned Broderick, Holm, Janney and Hoffman, it also finds room for Sarah Jessica Parker and Justin Theroux) to make cameo appearances in an effort to increase the hipster quotient. A nice idea, but one that goes awry because of the simple fact that none of these famous people have been given anything funny to do–apparently the mere presence of Sarah Jessica Parker as a burned-out guidance counselor is supposed to be so intrinsically hilarious that we aren’t supposed to notice the dud lines that she is delivering.

Amy Sedaris is one of the funnier women around these days but watching her flail around for laughs here is one of the more depressing sights that you will encounter on a movie screen this summer. The problem, I think, is that the character of Jerri Blank is one that is best appreciated in small doses and the extended running time of the film goes far beyond the endurance point of even the most tolerant viewers. Every once in a while, she gets off a good off-handed line (“What’s your IQ?” “Pisces.”) and her terrifyingly trashy visage (imagine Tammy Faye Baker without the flair) is good for a couple of laughs early on but she quickly wears out her welcome. Stephen Colbert is one of the funnier men around these days but he doesn’t even earn the meager laughs that Sedaris gets–how is it possible that the guy behind the usually hilarious “The Colbert Report” can spend as much time on screen as he does here without inspiring even a mild giggle?

In recent years, many have attempted to transfer a talent for television sketch comedy to the big screen–the comedy troupes The Kids in The Hall and The State successfully pulled this trick off, respectively, with “Brain Candy” and “Wet Hot American Summer.” In those films, it should be noted, the people involved decided to create new characters instead of attempting to stretch an old premise beyond its breaking point. “Strangers With Candy,” on the other hand, is more along the lines of one of those hideous “SNL” spinoff movies that consist of little more than one joke repeated ad nauseam without demonstrating any reason for its existence other than the possibility of scoring a quick buck from hardcore fans. However, in all fairness, I will admit that the film does contain one bit that actually made me laugh as hard as anything else that I have seen this year–a gym class sequence featuring an activity more hazardous than even dodgeball. This bit is so weird and unexpectedly hilarious that it makes you wonder who the people were that came up with it and where they were when the rest of the script was being written.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11289&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/07/06 15:12:07
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2006 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2006 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
TV to Screen: For more in the TV to Screen series, click here.

User Comments

4/12/08 John Millheim It was alot better than I thought it would be. had some decent comedy 4 stars
2/05/07 William Goss Not nearly as good as the show. Colbert provides most of few laughs. 2 stars
12/08/06 Susan Striaght I loved this movie-Amy Sedaris rocks!! You are crazy! 5 stars
8/08/06 21spaceboy Great movie, though only fans of the show will truly appreciate it 5 stars
7/31/06 Davina Loughed out loud many times. Not as good as show though. 5 stars
7/25/06 BoyInTheDesignerBubble A brilliant tv show, ahead of its time. 4 stars
7/08/06 Gerry Irons Better than the show 3 stars
6/28/06 Ken Patrick It didn't suck quite as much as the TV show. 1 stars
6/20/06 Blackbrain An Afterschool Special from Hell. Funny from beginning to end. 4 stars
4/15/05 Raymond Montoya crazy people make crazy things 3 stars
1/26/05 PolkaBoy Starts with a bang, but peters out to a boring finish. 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  28-Jun-2006 (R)
  DVD: 14-Nov-2006

UK
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