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‘Funny Farm’

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 03, 1988


George Roy Hill
Chevy Chase;
Madolyn Smith;
Joseph Maher;
Brad Sullivan;
MacIntyre Dixon
Parental guidance suggested

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From the opening shots of the new Chevy Chase comedy "Funny Farm," you almost expect a real movie. And that's what you get.


Chevy Chase movies aren't usually "real" movies. They're contraptions. And Chase himself is an actor manque'. But in "Funny Farm," he tries something different. The man he portrays here bears some resemblance to an actual human. Andy Farmer is a newspaper sportswriter, and from all indications, a pretty fair one. But like many newspapermen, he has dreams of greater glory. He wants to write a book. A novel. Maybe a great novel. And after receiving a $10,000 advance from his publisher, he and his wife Elizabeth (Madolyn Smith) abandon the city, buy a house in the country and set out to build a new life.

Do you see this one coming? Like from a mile away?

The problem is that the director, George Roy Hill, tries to construct a real universe around Chase and his costar. And for a time he's able to give the comedy some snap. But after the couple settle in their new home and nightmare piles on nightmare, the picture deteriorates into a shtickfest and the sense of reality drags on the proceedings.

An additional hitch is that Hill's intentions and Chase's talents are never in sync. As an actor, Chase can draw only on his resources as a sketch comedian, and so, though he can be a moderately amusing physical comic, whenever he's not mugging into the camera or falling over himself he nearly ceases to exist.

Smith, on the other hand, manages to sustain the comedy and still remain in character. And her timing here is wonderfully spunky, especially in a scene early on when, her Walkman blaring, she does a sort of convulsive funky chicken while unpacking boxes.

It's clear that the screenwriter, Jeffrey Boam, wanted to set up this utopian yuppie dreamland for his characters and have it blow up in their faces. And that's an okay premise, but after Andy develops writer's block and the couple's marriage deteriorates, Hill isn't able to work up any energy or give the gags any tone.

And who wants Chevy Chase to be a real human anyway? Maybe it's better for him to bumble through his roles in the "National Lampoon" and "Caddyshack" manner. At least that way we wouldn't be asked to identify with him.

Funny Farm, at area theaters, is rated PG.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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