Oscillating between long arid stretches, inspired explosions of slapstick and disarming warmth, Drop Dead Fred [suggested by a story by Elizabeth Livingston] has an almost irresistible premise – kid’s imaginary friend comes back to help the grown woman work out her problems – but it’s probably too slow and mushy for kids and too sporadic in its rewards for adults.
Phoebe Cates stars as Elizabeth, a young wife who returns home to her domineering mother (Marsha Mason) after splitting up with her brazenly philandering husband (Tim Matheson). At home she discovers a music box that contains her long-forgotten imaginary friend, Drop Dead Fred (British comic Rik Mayall in a red Beethoven fright wig), who’s been released to wreak havoc until she’s having fun again.
Elizabeth then sets out to woo back her smarmy hubby [from an uncredited Bridget Fonda], although it’s patently obvious she’d be better off with nice if rather boring childhood friend, Mickey (Ron Eldard), who conveniently re-emerges.
Director Ate De Jong has captured the silliness of childhood with the hyperactive title character but too often drills jokes deep into the pavement, until even children will have long stopped laughing.