"Caddyshack," a derelict farce that lurches about in search of hilarious possibilities among the members and employes of a country club, is the latest misbegotten spawn of "National Lampoon's Animal House." Movie history will no doubt record that an overwhelming percentage of this summer's comic monstrosities were similarly engendered.
Two of the writers responsible for cooking up the shredded bill of fare in "Caddyshack" were Harold Ramis and Douglas Kenney, who shared script credit on "Animal House" with Chris Miller. In addition, Ramis was given the opportunity to direct a movie for the first time. Shabbily photographed and raggedly assembled. "Caddyshack" is hanging evidence that Ramis wasn't prepared for the assignment or clever enough to fake it.
Ramis and Kenney were joined on the "Caddyshack" screenplay by Brian Doyle-Murray, evidently a compatible gagster. The head writer for the mercifully terminated "Saturday Night Live," he appears inoffensively in the movie as the caddy-master of apocryphal Bushwood Country Club. Doyle-Murray is also the brother of "SNL" luminary Bill Murray, whose promising debut last summer in "Meatballs" has been quickly tarnished by his bleary labors in "Where the Buffalo Roam" and now "Caddyshack," in which he plays a slovenly, mentally defective greenskeeper dedicated to exterminating gophers.
Or rather a gopher, a puppet figure seen scurrying about his little burrows and swaying facetiously to disco music, a trait that betrays his origins in the brilliantly titled but drab comedy special "Disco Beaver From Outer Space," thrown together a year or so ago for a cable network by National Lampoon alumni. This is obviously a cousin, Disco Gopher from the Lower Depths.
Ramis proves unable to sustain a single frayed thread of plot continuity, and none of the prominent cast members -- Chevy Chase, Murray, Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight -- enjoys opportunities decisive enough or direction competent enough to generate a little comic momentum and help prevent the gratuitous material from falling in a stinky, dismembered heap.
At first you're led to believe that the show will be organized around the attempt of a young caddy, pleasantly embodied by Micheal O'Keffe, to earn enough to finance his freshman year of college. His aspirations seem to hinge on winning a caddies' golf tournament, but his presumbably crucial event is thrown away at about the midpoint of the film.
O'Keefe is shown going out with a waitress played by Sarah Holcomb, affecting an Irish accent for some reasons. Their courtship is explicably dropped, and out of the blue O'Keefe is found dallying with Cindy Mason, cast as the sexpot niece of Knight, a pompous judge and officious club member. cOnly moments earlier it appeared that Mason had been paired off with Chase, cast as a member whose apparent obsession -- the solitary, non-competitive perfection of his golf game -- inexplicably fails to figure in the concluding episode. Chase and Rodney Dangerfield, a nouveau riche member whose brashness and insolence irritate the judge, challenge Knight and his partner in a round with a small fortune at stake.But shouldn't Chase's quirk be relevant to this contest?
As a matter of fact, nothing of even ridiculous consequence is ever at stake. Plent of characters are introduced, but none is effectively sustained. sAs Chase, Murray, Knight, Dangerfield, the gopher and assorted supporting players stumble into view, linger for a while and then vanish for prolonged periods, you can't help reflecting, "Long time, no see" and "Oh, yeah, I remember him, sort of, I think" whenever Ramis gets around to slapping them on screen again.
The only comic situation that clicks owes its success to a surefire obscene premise rather than clever shooting. Someone unwraps a Baby Ruth Bar and carelessly tosses it in the pool; moments later a Jaws-like panic ensues. Once the scatological idea is established, the situation plays itself. It scarcely matters that Ramis' shooting and cutting is as sloppy-boppy as always.
Ramis demonstrates only the shakiest notions of where to position a camera or ask for a splice. He's often s0 close to Ted Knight's indiscreet mugging -- you'd swear that Knight's rubbery, distorted features were about to fly off his face -- and Rodney Dangerfield's bug-eyed nervousness -- are his jitters part of the role or merely uncontrollable? -- that the effect is extremely grotesque. Moreover, the sound recording and/or mixing garbles a great deal of speech. Dangerfield's rapid delivery seems particularly susceptible to the garbles.
The only trace of style in the movie belongs to Addison Mizner's Boca Raton Hotel, glimpsed every now and then as the double for Bushwood.
If Ramis and Kennedy are looking for a corporate handle, nothing would suit them better than Bushwood Productions.