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‘Madhouse’ (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 16, 1990

"Madhouse" is excruciating fluff for moviegoing masochists. It's what bad cinephiles can expect in the cineplexes of hell. No, it's probably already on video there.

This fiasco of a yuppie nightmare starts off well enough with a cat vomit joke or two, then just goes down the septic tank from there. The cat, Scruffy -- who recalls Snots the dog in "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," of which this is a stinking version -- is the pet of unwanted house guests of a TV reporter and her broker husband. Kirstie Alley and the needlessly overexposed John Larroquette play Jessie and Mark Bannister, who have just moved into a house in Santa Monica and can't wait to have sex. Apparently this was impossible in an apartment. Alas, Mark's uncouth cousin, Fred (John Diehl), and his grating wife, Bernice (Jessica Lundy), come for a week's vacation that lasts for months.

Then Jessie's sister leaves her rich Arab husband, and, with her drug-dealer son, moves in as well. Next the Bannisters, who are seeking privacy under their barbecue, set sparks a-flying and burn down the house next door. The neighbors, all psychotic pigs, move in. The Bannisters' stuff is all ruined and they can't get no satisfaction because they are a couple of doormats.

This sub-onerous piffle is the work of a moviemaking couple -- producer Leslie Dixon and writer-director Tom Ropelewski -- who were coming to terms with their own experiences. Recycled jokes ("We're not insane, we're from New Joisy"), stale sentiments ("The only thing that matters is us") and the most tiresome of characters leave us well-nigh comatose.

"Madhouse," I'll say I'm mad.

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