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Stark Raving Mad
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by David Cornelius

"Stifler's Eleven."
4 stars

The first thing we see in “Stark Raving Mad” is Seann William Scott standing in the plains of Africa, staring down a lion. Now, knowing in advance that the movie is about a heist that occurs during a rave, we’re a bit curious as to what the plains of Africa have to do with an all-night dance party. It does fit, however - even if we have to wait until the movie’s almost over to figure out how it all snaps into place. Doesn’t matter, though; what Stifler finally does in this opening sequence is something so unexpectedly funny that it set me up for one wildly fun ride.

The whole movie works because it assaults us with the unexpected. Nothing goes the way we think they will. Watch, for instance, as one character whacks another over the head with a bottle; in another film, the hittee would be knocked out cold, but this is not another film. We also get chunks of dialogue devoted entirely to the Untladhavns (don’t worry if you don’t recognize the word - Scott will explain it to you), and even that bit ends on with a comic surprise. Written and directed by Drew Daywalt and Dave Schneider, both making their feature debut, “Stark Raving Mad” (no relation to the shortlived sitcom from the late 90s) is a brilliant example of how to make things funny just by making them unpredictable.

This helps, since the plot itself is a bit on the predictable side. Scott plays Ben McGewen, a professional thief who’s - you guessed it - eager to retire after One Last Job. That One Last Job involves a precious statue being held in a bank vault that’s next door to a hot night club. The plan: throw a massive rave, and use the party to cover the tracks of the break-in. You see, the bank’s alarm system is sound sensitive, but the thumping bass of techno music, if played loudly enough, can cause the alarm to short out. Nifty, eh?

Of course, it’s not a caper flick without some crimps in the plan, and so we get: a DJ (Jody Racicot) who refuses to play the right records; a mob boss (Lou Diamond Phillips; in a decent movie for a change!) who’s eager to make sure he’s not doublecrossed; a rival mobster (Terry Chen) who’s eager to make sure he can cause as much trouble as possible; a nosy club owner (Adam Arkin) who’d prefer if the music be turned down; and a couple of feds (Dave Foley and Kavan Smith) who are sure to ruin everything just by being there.

This is on top of the many other problems Ben faces during the night, and the movie becomes one of those one-damn-thing-after-another comedies. (I cannot begin to tell you how the giant dildo, the runaway snake, and the drag queens enter the picture.) The idea here is to show a night spiraling out of control, which it does in glorious form.

Daywalt and Schneider strain at times to make their film too showy. Their manic camera moves and frantic editing attempt to duplicate the funky techno sounds in the background, but really end up merely annoying at times. Still, the story’s so much fun, and the dialogue so enjoyable (especially from Scott, who’s proving to be the next kickass action/comedy star; his smartass persona here is as great as it’s ever been), that the flashiness of the directorial style is forgivable. “Stark Raving Mad” is a great comedy and one of the better recent heist flicks; more importantly, it’s one of the best direct-to-video movies I’ve seen lately. The next time anyone tells you that no good movie goes straight to video, show ’em this one.

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originally posted: 02/25/05 18:49:00
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User Comments

5/10/12 Paul Right up my alley. Unpredictable fun! 5 stars
6/23/06 Cal This was off the chain! 5 stars
5/31/06 Andi Enjoyable, if slow to pick up pace 4 stars
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  N/A (R)
  DVD: 13-Jan-2004



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