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'Eat the Rich'

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 20, 1988


Peter Richardson
Lanah Pellay;
Ronald Allen;
Sandra Dorne;
Nosher Powell
Under 17 restricted

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"Eat the Rich," the new anarchic comedy of revolutionary manners from England, is very much in the tradition of antic British slapstick and, as such, further proof that tradition isn't everything.

There's a lot of nonsense jammed into this film, most of it fairly routine and fairly obnoxious. The figure around whom all this inanity swirls is Nosh (Nosher Powell), a Cockney bruiser serving a term as home secretary who swills beer straight from the can at dinners with the queen (giving rise to the periodic lusty burp).

Nosh is being plotted against by Commander Fortune (Ronald Allen), an official with British intelligence and a Soviet double agent. Fortune manipulates for the KGB from behind the scenes, and his front man (unofficially) is a sort of prissy terrorist named Alex (Lanah Pellay), who, after he's fired from a trendy restaurant named Bastards, pulls together a motley rebel band and declares war on the rich.

The comedy in "Eat the Rich" is antiestablishment and class-conscious, but in a manner so familiar, so entrenched, that it has become establishment itself. Even the outrageousness seems defanged. When Alex seizes Bastards and reopens it under the name Eat the Rich, its specialty is a mincemeat made from the flesh of patrons murdered during the rebel group's takeover. But somehow this doesn't seem nearly as shocking as it's intended to be.

The film's director, Peter Richardson, his writing partner, Pete Richens, and some of the actors are associated with the British comedy group Comic Strip, whose precursors are Monty Python, Spike Jones and Richard Lester; there's even a little of Morcambe and Wise, Benny Hill and the "Carry On" films of the '50s and '60s in there. But as a group, they seem less than the sum of their influences. The punk jaggedness they bring to their derivations is the only hint of originality, but this, too, seems a little staid. It feels like punk on the downward swing, after most of its rude energy has dissipated.

Not all the gags miss. In one hilarious bit, it takes Nosh only a few seconds to resolve the conflict in the Middle East. ("You, give him back his country! And you, smarten up!") And as Alex, Pellay recruits followers to his cause with foppish aplomb. ("Hi! We're a people's uprising. Fancy joining us?")

As the common-man home secretary, Nosher Powell looks like the kind of guy cannonballs would bounce off. Powell's not an actor (he's a stunt man by trade), and there isn't any subtlety or polish in his style. But none is called for. In the scene where he conducts a press conference dressed only in a pair of skimpy briefs, the bluntness of his vulgarity makes him seem almost appealing. Muscles bulging above his beer belly, he's so much what he is (and nothing else) that you can almost see how someone like him might actually get elected. He's a pig, but a sublime one.

Eat the Rich, at the K-B Janus, is rated R and contains rude language and some suggestive material. And cannibalism.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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