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‘Drop Dead Fred’

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 25, 1991


Ate De Jong
Phoebe Cates;
Rik Mayall;
Marsha Mason;
Tim Matheson;
Carrie Fisher;
Ron Eldard
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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"Drop Dead Fred," which stars Phoebe Cates, is about imaginary friends -- a subject that Hollywood should know backward and forward. Its heroine is a young woman named Elizabeth (Cates), who has recently separated from her husband (Tim Matheson) and moved back home with her mother (Marsha Mason). Her friend is Drop Dead Fred (Rik Mayall), who makes a surprise reappearance after Lizzie accidentally liberates him from the jack-in-the-box where he has languished ever since Lizzie was a little girl and her evil mother taped the lid shut.

Fred, who is rather a bad egg, has wild, carrot-red hair and a wardrobe favoring electric green, and he speaks in a working-class British accent. Think of having the Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten as an imaginary playmate, and you've pretty much got the picture. His pet name for Lizzie is Snotface, and his favorite pastimes include tracking doggie poo across Mom's newly cleaned carpet.

Harvey he's not.

The point the filmmakers -- Ate De Jong is the director, Carlos Davis and Anthony Fingleton the screenwriters -- want to make, of course, is that Fred is the repository for all of Lizzie's repressed aggression; he's the rebellious child inside her fighting to get out. This, folks, is what we call a parable, and its message is that we all need to release the Fred inside us, that in some ways Fred represents the best part of ourselves. While in theory this seems like an altogether valid notion, in practice it falls apart because Fred is such an obnoxious boil of a character. Instead of wanting to release him you want to deposit him in a Davey Tree Grinder. Painful death, that's what this trickster deserves.

Drop Dead Fred gives imaginary friends everywhere a bad name; one only hopes that there is an Imaginary Friend Defamation League.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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