Thursday, January 12, 2012

Beavis and Butt-Head Do America - 1996

"Beavis and Butt-Head Do America" - 1996
Dir. by Mike Judge and Yvette Kaplan - 1 hr. 21 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

The nineties were a big time for cartoons for adults.  Sure, there's the Ralph Bakshi movies like "Fritz the Cat" or other adult animated movies like "Heavy Metal," but the nineties was the point in time when that genre finally hit television.  Behind the runaway success of "Beavis and Butt-Head," MTV spread the wealth and aired several cartoons that were unlike anything before or after (check out "The Maxx" or "Aeon Flux," for instance).  Unfortunately, if you wanted to go back and see what all the fuss was about, you'd be out of luck.  Both "Beavis" and its spin-off, "Daria," have fallen victim to a contractual quirk, which means that the rights to the original music used in both shows is no longer cleared.  During the nineties, the vast commercial appeal of selling collections of TV shows hadn't really been tapped (or even conceived of), and re-clearing the rights to those songs or videos has become prohibitively expensive.  What this whole preamble means is that if you wanted to know why "Beavis" was such a big deal, there's no legal way to do so.  The shows, as originally aired, simply are no longer available to the consumer.  It's a huge blow; a significant chunk of the funniest moments during the series come from Beavis and Butt-Head riffing on the videos they watched incessantly.

Because of this situation, the earliest complete piece of work available to watch by legit means (and please, use whatever means are available to track down the unedited original series) is the fruit of Beavismania, "Beavis and Butt-Head Do America."  Unfortunately, it doesn't really capture the flavor of the TV series, either.  The format of the show involved bouncing back and forth between whatever the short narrative cartoon segments and the duo watching videos and commenting on them.  Each episode was only fifteen minutes long, so the stories were usually around five minutes apiece.  Trying to expand the dynamic that was so successful on television out to a feature-length film is a rocky road, to be sure.

The story of "B&BDA" is a series of misunderstandings.  After someone steals their TV, Beavis and Butt-Head leave the house, and get wrangled into a murder-for-hire plot that they interpret as being hired to score with someone's wife.  The whole thing is pretty much an excuse to put Beavis and Butt-Head into a number of different places, and it plays out as a chase-movie.  Of course, they don't know they're being chased, so they just bumble along from place to place.  And while there aren't any actual music videos, there are a few music sequences.  The opening sequence is a blaxploitation riff with an original song by Isaac Hayes (pre-"South Park").  There's a lounge act in Vegas that the duo dance to, set to a Red-Hot Chili Peppers' cover of "Love Rollercoaster" that's pretty fun.  And there's also a hallucination sequence set to a White Zombie song that incorporates singer Rob Zombie's artwork, to excellent effect.  It's not exactly the same, but the effort is appreciated, and the soundtrack is generally very, very good.

But the biggest problem is that the movie just isn't that good.  It's slow-starting, not really taking off humor-wise until Beavis' exchange with an old lady voiced by Cloris Leachman.  There are good moments, but even at the admittedly short running time, there's just not enough there there.  If you arrived at this movie having seen Mike Judge's live-action movies like "Office Space" first, I think you'd be both disappointed and wondering what all the fuss was about.  And unlike the "South Park" movie that would come a couple of years after, there's no real point to this film.  There's nothing in the plot or in the execution (possibly excepting the Zombie sequence) that demanded to be made into a film instead of being split into another season of shows.  Speaking as someone who is a rabid fan of the show (in both it's earlier and current incarnations), I just wanted something more that wasn't there.  Mike Judge's work would get a lot better than what's here, so it's not a crushing blow, but it would have been nice to have a better historical document of "Beavis and Butt-Head" to be able to show people if they wondered what the big deal was.

2.5 / 5 - TV

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