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'Spinal Tap's' Laugh Meter Goes to 11

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 8, 2000


    'Spinal Tap' "This Is Spinal Tap," starring Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean, is back in theaters. (Metro Goldwyn Mayer)
Keep those matchbooks burning above your head. The "Spinal Tap" boys are taking another bow. What started as a hilarious rock-documentary spoof ("This Is Spinal Tap") about a band of heavy-metal losers in 1984 has fuzzed the lines between satire and reality. The comedy's cult following has fueled several "reunion" concerts and television specials featuring fictional members Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer).

Now, we have a theatrical rerelease, primarily to draw attention to a musically remixed DVD video version that features about an hour of never-before-seen material.

But this consumer shakedown is more than welcome. "Spinal Tap," directed by Rob Reiner and written by Guest, McKean, Shearer and Reiner, is one of the great movie satires. And if it isn't the funniest rock spoof ever made, it certainly shares the title with "The Rutles," Monty Python's mockumentary about a band not unlike the Beatles.

The very sight of Nigel, David and Derek, as they sit down for an interview with the film's director, Marty DiBergi (Reiner), is enough to gun my laugh motors into immediate overdrive. After all, these three are the most clueless musicians in rock 'n' roll – not counting the real ones, of course.

Why clueless? Because they are blithely unaware that their heavy metal music's greatest quality is its volume, that their creative abilities are nonexistent and that they write puerile, offensive lyrics.

At the beginning of the movie, Marty reads the band an excerpt of a past music review damning their album, "Intravenus de Milo."

"'The musical growth rate of this band cannot even be charted,'" reads Marty. "'They're treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry.'"

"That's nitpicking, isn't it?" says Nigel.

There are so many great moments in this movie – from Nigel's insistence that he find an amplifier that goes up to 11, to the band's recounting of the sad fates of their many drummers.

Their first drummer, for instance, died from a "bizarre gardening accident," David says. And then there was the drummer who died because he choked on vomit – not his own, someone else's.

"Spinal Tap," which features a ton of funny cameos from Fran Drescher (as a nasal record company artist relations rep named Bobbi Flekman), Paul Shaffer (a publicity man named Artie Fufkin) and others, never seems to run its course. It remains eternally amusing for repeat fans who have already seen and hooted over it.

These misguided rockers (who perform their own material along with former real Brit rockers David Kaff and R.J. Parnell) keep you coming back for more. I'll always appreciate the tacky abandon of such songs as "Big Bottom," a perfect parody of heavy-metal rock's often-trashy, misogynistic sensi{shy}bilities. And there's something alarmingly eternal about these over-age Ozzy Osbournes leering forward, tongues wagging, in MTV-VH1 perpetuity. They're here to remind us that mediocrity, stupidity and lyrics that sometimes rhyme are things to be treasured, not forgotten.

THIS IS SPINAL TAP (R, 83 minutes) – Contains lewd language and imagery.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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