Now is the Alex Winter of our discontent. “Freaked” showcases Ted (or is it Bill?) of the “Excellent Adventure” as star, co-director, co-producer, co-writer and conspirator. An anarchic mix of hip comedy, vague, socially correct eco politics and overstated makeup effects, Winter’s pic might just eke by as a cult curiosity. However, mainstream chances are dim, with offshore prospects likely to reach no farther than Puerto Rico.
Loud and flamboyant, pic takes a few shots at societal sacred cows but more often misses the target. The effort comes off much in the prankish manner of a student film. “Freaked” thumbs its nose at the status quo, but few will find themselves on the filmmakers’ side when the last laughs are counted.
Former child star Ricky Coogin (Winter) has entered into adulthood as a vain, obnoxious, amoral vulgarian. He’s wooed and succumbs to a multimillion-dollar offer to be the spokesman for industrial giant EES (Everything Except Shoes). Specifically, he’s sent to banana republic Santa Flan to squelch rumors about the deadly side effects of its Zygrot-24 chemical.
Ricky is blind to everything but the money. When he encounters eco radicals, all he can think about is effecting a disguise to romance protester Julie (Megan Ward). With the assistance of buddy Ernie (Michael Stoyanov), he whisks her away from the throng but soon blows his cover.
The trio’s discord deepens when they arrive at the ghoulish theme park Freek Land and encounter its maniacal mastermind, Elijah J. Skuggs (Randy Quaid). Skuggs lures them into his lair and, employing Zygrot, turns Julie and Ernie into Siamese twins while Ricky becomes half man, half monster. Showing exceptionally good judgment, actor Keanu Reeves appears uncredited and visually unidentifiable as the Dog Boy.
Unlike Tod Browning’s 1932 “Freaks,” the new outing has precious little to convey about the nature of physical deformity. It’s weighed down by a staccato of fitfully funny gags; the filmmakers simply try too hard to displease.
Not as brisk as its running time might suggest, “Freaked” disproves the old saw that brevity is the soul of wit.