*/**** Image A Sound B Extras B-
starring Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Paul Rudd
written and directed by Amy Heckerling
DEAD & BREAKFAST
**/**** Image C+ Sound B Extras B-
starring Ever Carradine, Portia de Rossi, David Carradine, Bianca Lawson
written and directed by Matthew Leutwyler
The crux of the problem arises in a scene where matchmaker/Beverly Hills princess Cher (Silverstone) tries to teach her project Tai (Murphy) what the word "sporadically" means (it refers to how often Silverstone sees new scripts): Rather than let the moment play out in its own spectacularly ironic way, it comments on it with an arched eyebrow and a snort of derision from love-interest Josh (Paul Rudd). Clueless is never content to just let be, be the finale of seem, if you know what I mean--never content to trust its audience without having a smug jackhole remind exactly how vapid and, yes, clueless our heroines are. In this way it invites the audience to share in the scorn and contempt--Clueless is about being smarter than these classless bimbos, these proto-Paris Hiltons, and then, in the last reel, we're asked to give them a patronizing pat on the head. We're not exactly cheering Cher on as she proves incapable of driving a car, argues her way to better grades, or spends half her screentime with a cell phone glued to her ear--and neither is she, on the flipside, satirizing the way kids are today. Judging by the film's popularity, it's more of a documentary on how teens get their jollies off laughing at people to whom they feel superior.
Clueless is drunk on its own cleverness and afraid, at the same time, that its target audience won't understand the joke, thus it proceeds to explain itself in studied detail. An awkward love affair between gnomish teachers Wallace Shawn and (associate producer) Twink Caplan has moments of genuine pathos, but because they're reduced to cutesy fetish objects for the patronizing manipulation of our stable of clothes horses, it's tough to separate our feelings of recognition therein from that cozy Red Cross tingle of relief at being better off, at least, than these lovable oafs. For all its meta-winking, Clueless is completely sans irony, substituting in its gaping absence a desperation to seem better than its premise.
Same problem applies to Matthew Leutwyler's winking gorefest Dead & Breakfast, a spam-in-a-cabin flick that takes its cues from The Evil Dead pictures and Dead Alive but comes off as a flick wilfully goofy without any commensurate smarts or, really, any truly memorable geek thrills. Lacking much in the way of visual signature, it's a lot of flat jokes layered in among a few uneven gross-out gags. Everyone in the cast is so Clueless-ly self-aware that it veers dangerously close to undermining the very undertone of gravitas that made the films Dead & Breakfast obviously reveres so great. When the movie and its horde of two-stepping hick zombies pause in their siege on our surviving heroes to "Thriller"-dance to Greek chorus Zach Selwyn's hick-a-billy croon, there's just a little too much winking in the air of its one idea stretched until the white shows.
It goes down like this: A group of attractive twentysomethings are stranded in the middle of nowhere, check into a mysterious roadside attraction run by some freak (David Carradine), and, before you know it, the whole town erupts with the pitter-patter of the soft-shoe shuffle of the shambling undead. There're moments to love: Jeremy Sisto (essentially the same one-dimensional character here and in Clueless) spends the last part of the film as a severed head puppet; a massacre at a hoedown showcases a pretty neat geysering stick-to-the-eye; and a religious fanatic gets the top part of his head blown off. But there's simply not enough energy to the carnage, not enough verve in the jokes, and no centre to the production. In fact, possible heroes keep getting dispatched, and that lack of focus kills any possibility for identification. No Ash emerges from the wreckage--and that's bad news for the picture. Dead & Breakfast is a parsing of better splatter flicks; and like a Cliff's Note, it's good for cheating but bad for a screenplay.
Paramount refurbishes Clueless, the flick-that-spawned a television show (and the Legally Blonde franchise--and possibly greased the way for Hilary Duff and Mandy Moore and Lindsay Lohan and Jessica Simpson) with a cosmetic makeover on DVD: a slipcovered, sparkly pink monstrosity outfitted with a handful of documentaries mixing old junket and B-roll footage with new interviews. The sparkling 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation of the film itself is such a drastic improvement over the late-1999 issue that it's almost like watching a different movie. (Unfortunately, it also isn't.) DP Bill Pope's traditionally-dark, colour-saturated cinematography is given a brightening that lends the flick glow in its details, while grain has disappeared and black level is corrected up. The DD 5.1 audio appears untampered-with and does well with the dialogue and the sometimes-oppressive pop soundtrack. At least the Radiohead tune ("Fake Plastic Trees") sounds good--even if its only purpose is to be mocked by the idiot heroine.
"The Class of '95" (18 mins.) kicks off the festivities with a sort of self-bemused style that fits the film just fine, locating a few of the principals (though not, curiously, Silverstone) reminiscing about how much fun they had and how great the project was and so on and so on. The only thing of any interest is the recounting of how Silverstone's hilariously ignorant pronunciation of "Haitians" wasn't scripted and was, in fact, a reflection of Silverstone's actual ignorance. Meaning that at that moment in the film when we're laughing uproariously at the sucking stupidity of this character, we're actually laughing uproariously at Silverstone's real stupidity. That everyone's so delighted by her gaffe kind of underscores the meanness at the base of this endeavour. Most shocking to me is the revelation that actress Stacy Dash was 28-playing-17 and looks young for the role. "Creative Writing" (10 mins.) is Heckerling recalling the genesis of this piece intercut with more dusty stories of how the project used to be called "I Was a Teenage Teenager", and of how the film's similarities to Austen weren't accidental at all! "Fashion 101" (11 mins.) has Donald Faison speculating that Mona May's costume design for the film was actually influential somehow to the way people dressed in the mid-Nineties, to which I say, Whatever.
"Language Arts" (8 mins.) pats itself on the back regarding Heckerling's astonishing mastery of pseudo-teen vernacular...but, you know, of the many ways that Clueless is no Heathers--here's one. Onwards: "Suck & Blow: A Tutorial" (3 mins.) is a circa 1995 on-set thing with the kids giggly about the hormonal party game; "Driver's Ed" (4 mins.) is an increasingly desperate bit concerning the difficulty of driving on the freeway in L.A.; and finally "We're History" (9 mins.) offers more reminiscences, including Heckerling acting a little defensive about her approach to her happy bimbos. A recounting of Paramount's Sherry Lansing loving the flick is the highlight of the piece (for which Silverstone remains absent). Two trailers for Clueless plus forced trailers for Airplane!, "Charmed" The Complete Second Season, Mad Hot Ballroom, Tommy Boy, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, "Laguna Beach" The Complete First Season, and "The Brady Bunch" First Season round out the exhausting single-disc presentation.
Still, it's not as exhausting as the special features for Dead & Breakfast, which kick off with two feature-length commentaries. Sigh. The first features Leutwyler, F/X man Michael Mosher, and cast members Erik Palladino and Zach Selwyn. It's the usual yakker with the boys commenting on how hot they think the girls are and how cool they think the special effects are if they do say so themselves. There's a little self-awareness about how superfluous it was to include an Evil Dead poster in the background of one scene--but it sort of ends there. Leutwyler resurfaces in the second, even more collegial (if also proportionately less informative) yakker with cast members Ever Carradine, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Palladino (again!), and Oz Perkins. "Did he spend the whole shoot with that thing in his eye? Gross!"
A 10-minute, non-chaptered deleted/extended scenes is all dialogue, and a three-minute blooper reel is the usual assortment of flubbed lines and motorcycles not starting. One-minute of "additional music" is just another croon from the croon well. A large poster and stills gallery plus a trailer for the film itself shares space on the disc with a fine if dedicatedly unspectacular 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and a booming DD 5.1 mix that makes decent use of the surround channels. Forced trailers for Man with the Screaming Brain, All Souls Day, and It Waits finish off the DVD. Originally published: September 26, 2005.