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‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ (PG)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 15, 1993

You need little introduction to Jed Clampett, erstwhile Ozark resident, discoverer of crude oil, nouveau billionaire and new resident of Beverly. Hills, that is, movie stars, swimming pools . . ..

That's right. The Clampetts -- Jed, Elly May, Jethro and Granny -- have moved into the TV-turned-movie neighborhood, joining fences with fellow small-screen graduates, the Coneheads, the Addams Family, Dennis the Menace and -- coming soon to a theater near you -- the Flintstones. If the Arkansas folks don't stand out as the funniest in the crowd, they may be among the most charming.

You can be sure the famous Beverly Hills theme song will start things rolling -- although it's disappointing not to hear the original performance. You can also rest assured things will end with the family waving from the mansion steps. In between, there ain't a whole heap of reasons to catch this on the big screen. "The Beverly Hillbillies" doesn't exactly challenge "The Age of Innocence" as a cinematic event. The script (rustled up by an overpopulation of hired guns) is about as piquant as roadkill. It's just a sprawling sitcom of crazy carryings-on, as the Clampetts try to make sense of Beverly Hills 90210.

But despite the overall thinness, there's a great spirit afoot. It's a TV-cultural guilty pleasure to see this charming, dust-covered series from the 1960s gussied up and ready to go. Which is why it will work better back on your TV screen.

Even more rewarding than boob-tube sentimentality is the collective effort of the cast, including Cloris Leachman (as Granny), Lily Tomlin (Miss Hathaway), Jim Varney (Jed), Dabney Coleman (Mr. Drysdale) and newcomers Diedrich Bader (Jethro) and Erika Eleniak (Elly May). They take this functional story and work it over with guileless charm and goofiness -- just the way the original folks did.

Without too much plot-rehashing, the Clampetts make a fortune from the crude oil found under their Arkansas property and move to L.A. While Beverly Hills bankers Coleman and Tomlin try to ingratiate themselves with their newest, juiciest client, Coleman's scheming employee Rob Schneider and partner-in-crime Lea Thompson make a scamming bid for the Clampett money. Posing as a finishing-school instructor for Eleniak (Elly May), Thompson tries to seduce Varney into marriage. Meanwhile, Tomlin finds Bader (Jethro) enticingly primitive. And Eleniak shows she can rassle with the best and snottiest at her new designer-generation school. Her "hickory nut crusher" is particularly deadly.

As Granny, Leachman is not only the spitting image of original performer Irene Ryan, she's got all the mannerisms. It's an uncanny cloning. She has some moves of her own too. Subjected at one point to electroshock therapy (thanks to nasty Schneider and Thompson), she stares into space, haplessly mumbling "Inimini, inimini, inimini," as her hair stands up and sparks buzz around her.

Tomlin is serene as Miss Hathaway. With a bevy of almost-Ernestine inflections and facial twitches, she takes the role higher than it ever went before. A big surprise is Varney, best known to all as Ernest P. Worrell. A real-life Kentuckian, he's got the perfect drawl and, frankly, a lot of down-home charm as the patriarch whose unstinting belief in goodness is his greatest protection.

The visual gags you've probably seen in the previews: Granny, trussed up in a rocking chair atop the famous family jalopy, is a little too high for a low branch; Varney scares off L.A. gang members with his double-barreled shotgun; and so on. There's even a White House joke about "Cousin Bill." Like the old show, the movie glides by quickly and pleasantly. If it's nothing fancy, it's mighty sweet.

Copyright The Washington Post

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