The flood of hit films based on popular old TV shows should continue unabated with “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Just as corny as the long-running series, pic version has been cleverly cast and shrewdly skewed to appeal jointly to original fans of the show and younger viewers only vaguely familiar with it. Result should be a profitable B.O. gusher for Fox.
The comic effect of the new Clampett clan is nearly identical to that of the 1962-71 CBS hit (which has remained in syndication almost continuously).
The actors, for the most part, are so similar to the originals that, days after viewing the film, they virtually blend together in the mind, while the humor is the same sort of down-home, fish-out-of-water stuff that’s so silly you can’t help laughing. The delight-in-recognition factor, starting with the immortal “Ballad of Jed Clampett,” will be very high, while just enough edge and hip contempo references have been applied to keep kids from regarding this as a relic.
In fact, zippy current rendition feels like scraps from numerous old TV shows thrown into a pot and spiced up with new seasoning. Beginning in the Arkansas backwoods with wildcat Elly May wrassling a bear and toting a man on her shoulders, pic efficiently works through the obligatory scenes of Jed making a $ 1 billion oil strike in a swamp and deciding to cart the family off to BevHills.
Taking officious control of their affairs are toadying banker Mr. Drysdale and prim secretary Miss Hathaway, roles neatly filled by TV-friendly Dabney Coleman and Lily Tomlin, who’s given the assignment of finding a suitable wife for the widowed Jed.
Latter development provides most of what passes for a plot. It’snot much, but then storyline was a similarly irrelevant afterthought in director Penelope Spheeris’ previous outing, the not excellent comedy “Wayne’s World,” and look how much difference it made at the box office.
Intrigue cooked up by a quartet of screenwriters involves the efforts of the nefarious Laura (Lea Thompson), assisted by bank employee Woodrow (Rob Schneider), to trick Jed into marriage and run off with his loot.
It’s thin stuff, but the ingratiating naivete of the characters and the aw-shucks friendliness of the cast are disarming, and it becomes easy to just let this go down as a country tune with some moonshine on the side.
Gullible but common-sensical as ever, Jed has found a worthy new interpreter in Jim Varney, who feels like the genuine article and weighs his words and decisions with good comic timing. As the stubborn Granny, Cloris Leachman is a near-dead ringer for the late Irene Ryan and conveys the right antic, anarchic spirit, but the character is seriously shortchanged by the script, which neglects her almost entirely until the final reel.
Much of the running time is given over to Jethro and, even more so, to Elly May. Diedrich Bader as Jethro is leaner and more self-consciously comic than was Max Baer Jr., while Erika Eleniak, who made an impression in “Under Siege,” will make more of one here in Donna Douglas’ original part, as her conspicuously featured attributes sorely test her jeans buttons and bow only to those of Dolly Parton, who turns up in a party scene to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jed.
The original Jed, Buddy Ebsen, briefly pops up as an aged Barnaby Jones.
Most pointed satire comes at the easy expense of Beverly Hills High, where Elly May is sent with Drysdale’s teenage son, a role Kevin Connolly plays as the screen’s first human imitation of “Beavis and Butt-head.”
Knowingly camping up her role more than the others, Tomlin is a delight as the industrious but often baffled Miss Hathaway.
Robert Brinkmann’s lensing is as brightly lit as any TV show, and Ross Albert’s editing adroitly wraps up pic in barely over 90 minutes.