The good news is “Beavis and Butt-head Do America” doesn’t suck. The bad news is it doesn’t rule, either. This gleefully junky Christmas present for arrested adolescents of all ages has some genuinely amusing moments of dumb and dumber silliness. But it arrives too late in the day to fully exploit the popularity of the once-trendy MTV cartoon series. Paramount will have to wait until the animated feature reaches homevideo before savoring — huh-huh-huh, heh-heh — the last laugh.
Just in case you haven’t yet made their acquaintance: Beavis and Butt-head are moronic teenage geeks with large heads and minimal attention spans. Most of the time, they hang around the house and offer jokey commentaries on musicvideos. All of the time, they divide everything and anyone they encounter into two categories: “Cool” or “They suck.” Their major goal — their impossible dream, really — is to lose their virginity, preferably with a woman who has “big hooters.”
To stretch things out for feature length, director Mike Judge (who co-wrote the script with Joe Stillman) sends Beavis and Butt-head on a cross-country odyssey. It is not, strictly speaking, a journey of self-discovery. But it does manage to kill 80 minutes with reasonable efficiency.
The adventure begins when someone steals Beavis and Butt-head’s beloved TV set. While seeking a replacement at a seedy hotel, they meet a hard-drinking redneck who mistakes the boys for hired killers. In turn, Beavis and Butt-head misunderstand when the redneck offers them $10,000 to fly to Las Vegas and “do” his errant wife. The boys, figuring this may be the only way they’ll ever get lucky, accept the offer. Not surprisingly, things don’t go as smoothly as Beavis and Butt-head hope.
The errant wife is an arms dealer who has obtained a dangerous chemical-weapons device that is smaller than a floppy disc. She sews the device into Beavis’ pants, then tells our heroes to meet her in Washington. Beavis and Butt-head join a group of senior citizens aboard a tour bus and take off, with the wife, the redneck and many law-enforcement agents in hot pursuit.
The plot, such as it is, also involves a cranky neighbor, a disastrous stop at the Hoover Dam and an arduous trek through the desert. (The latter cues a heavy-metal fantasy sequence after one of the boys inadvertently samples a psychedelic mushroom.) The final destination is the White House, where Butt-head tries to put moves on Chelsea Clinton because, what the hell, they both wear braces. Chelsea’s reaction is, while not unexpected, very funny.
In short, Beavis and Butt-head cover a lot more ground than Bob Hope and Bing Crosby ever did in their road movies. Trouble is, they don’t generate as much laughter. Judge, who created Beavis and Butt-head and provides their voices, gets a surprising amount of mileage from what is basically a one-joke premise. But he doesn’t do enough to make his characters appeal to a wider audience. Faithful fans of the MTV series will no doubt be amused. But the few newcomers who pay the price of admission likely will wonder what all the fuss has been about.
As usual, Beavis and Butt-head display an indefatigable talent for finding sexual innuendo in the most innocent statements. At one point, a teacher suggests that the world contains things other than television “to entertain us.” Beavis and Butt-head respond: “Hey! He said anus!” A little bit of this goes a long way, and Judge is wise not to overindulge.
Among the notables who lend their vocal talents to the enterprise: Robert Stack, as a stern ATF agent who’s obsessed with finding Beavis and Butt-head, and Cloris Leachman, as a sweet little old lady who makes the mistake of giving Beavis some caffeine pills. Eric Bogosian and director Richard Linklater (whose “Dazed and Confused” probably was a hit with Beavis and Butt-head) voice a few minor characters.
The animation is slightly more sophisticated here than on the TV show, though it remains, by movie standards, minimalist at best. That, of course, is part of the joke. The most inspired part of the pic is the opening-credits sequence, a parody of hip 1970s cop shows with Beavis and Butt-head as sharp-dressing, straight-shooting heroes. Isaac Hayes performs the title tune, “Two Cool Guys,” with all the flair he brought to the theme from “Shaft.”
Incidentally, Beavis is the blond guy with the Metallica T-shirt. Butt-head is the dark-haired guy with the AC/DC T-shirt. Of the pair, Butt-head appears to be slightly smarter. But not by much.