Mel Brooks tries to be Chaplin, both as actor and as writer-director, and the result is bad Mel Brooks.Brooks' only good moments here come early, when — as the rotten billionaire Goddard Bolt — he's amusingly lofty and disdainful, with his dinky mustache and predator hairpiece; we almost expect him to reprise his line "It's good to be the king." After Brooks is stripped of these accoutrements as part of a bet (he has to survive on the streets without money for a month), the movie slackens, and not much later it dies; you hardly sense its passing.
The newly scraggly Brooks falls in love with a beautiful bag lady (Lesley Ann Warren, in an awful performance), who seems to have mood teeth — they sometimes alternate between yellow and white within the same scene. In the film's masterstroke of fatuity, the lovers twirl in an elaborate song-and-dance number — and it isn't played as parody. Nothing is, really.
Life Stinks was part of the ceaseless summer-of-1991 glut of redemption movies (see also Regarding Henry and The Doctor), and those of us who had faith in Brooks' irreverent sensibility and hoped he would turn this stupid subgenre on its head were profoundly disappointed — it's pretty much a straight redemption movie. What's worse, Brooks seemed to have lost even a basic grasp of comedy. About 90% of the jokes elicit blank, polite stares, not laughs. The film is as raggedy and forlorn as its hero.Perhaps because of its suicidally unappealing ad campaign (and its title), the movie bombed. A solid cast of back-up comedians (Stuart Pankin, Howard Morris, Billy Barty, the mighty Jeffrey Tambor) do what they can.