4 December 2001 | george.schmidt
Bad cinema done with a smile
THE INDEPENDENT (2001) ** Jerry Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Max Perlich (Cameos: Anne Meara, Ron Howard, Roger Corman, Peter Bogdanovich, John Lydon, Ben Stiller, Andy Dick, Fred Dryer, Jonathan Katz, Fred Williamson, Karen Black, Nick Cassavetes) (Dir: Stephen Kessler)
Jerry Stiller has made a fine career for himself as a top-notch character actor and the triumphs of his long-standing marriage with comedy partner Anne Meara. But perhaps it is the past decade particularly for his stint as the bellicose Frank Costanza, the brow-beating, bellowing paterfamilias of Jason Alexander's angry George on "Seinfeld" is what he'll be remembered for after all these years ago. Now he's the lead in this quasi-mockumentary a la "This Is Spinal Tap" meets "The Player" by way of "Ed Wood."
Morty Fineman (Stiller), a truly independent filmmaker of questionable taste and lack of skills and talent, is the focus of a documentary film crew shooting the downward spiral of his illustrious career of low, low budget exploitation films the likes of Roger Corman and John Waters but without the knowing wink at the audience. Fineman's downfall is his blind ambition as an artiste whose long-suffering daughter and wind beneath his winds Paloma (Garofalo) has to endure the latest brinks of bankruptcy that has his bank offering to buy out his filmography not for its artistic merit but literally by the pound of celluloid he's burned.
Along for the ride is his protégé and gopher Ivan (the gifted character actor Perlich) who desperately attempts a comeback for Morty by investigating every film festival to showcase his ouevre. Naturally not one is interested save for Chaparral, Nevada whose town's main point of business is prostitution. To add insult to injury Fineman winds up working his new offices of his trade outside a dingy motel.
Stiller acquits himself nicely as the clueless yet empassioned director of dreck whose specialty is message films of his own political bent via busty babes scantily clad with semi-automatic weaponary touted between their ample cleavage. What works for the film on the whole is the tongue-in-cheek sendup of the industry with its accurate depictions of what bad films look like from shoddy stock footage and badly acted scenes to its so-scary -they -seem -real take-offs of trailers to 1960s and 70s junk films. The use of real-life filmmakers like Howard and Bogdanovich tries to lend a hand to its wink-wink/nudge-nudge insider take/satire send-up by giving it an air of authenticity but by the last third the one-joke gimmick runs out of gas and feels flat.
For those who love awful movies and wonder who the heck makes this crap then they have a true hero in Morty Fineman, a man ahead of his times .whenever that was.