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Screwed

At once brazenly slapdash and desperately frenetic, "Screwed" is latenight cable TV filler disguised as a feature film. Dumped into theatrical release May 12 without benefit of press previews, this lamentably lame comedy may vanish from most megaplexes before Memorial Day and almost certainly will appear on vidstore shelves by summer's end.

With:
Willard Fillmore - Norm Macdonald
Rusty P. Hayes - Dave Chappelle
Miss Crock - Elaine Stritch
Grover Cleaver - Danny DeVito
Detective Tom Dewey - Daniel Benzali
Chip Oswald - Sherman Hemsley
Hillary - Sarah Silverman
Roger - Malcolm Stewart

At once brazenly slapdash and desperately frenetic, “Screwed” is latenight cable TV filler disguised as a feature film. Dumped into theatrical release May 12 without benefit of press previews, this lamentably lame comedy may vanish from most megaplexes before Memorial Day and almost certainly will appear on vidstore shelves by summer’s end.

Pic marks the co-directing debut of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the screenwriting duo behind “Ed Wood,” “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and “Man on the Moon.” At first glance, “Screwed” might appear to have more in common with a couple of the pair’s less prestigious efforts, “Problem Child” and “Problem Child 2,” but don’t be fooled: The latter two comedies were fitfully amusing guilty pleasures. By sharp contrast, “Screwed” provides only a few random laughs separated by long periods of mirthless tedium. Indeed, some stretches are so painfully unfunny, ticket buyers may actually find themselves feeling sorry for the folks onscreen.

Norm Macdonald appears stiff and uncomfortable in the lead role of Willard Fillmore, the overworked and underpaid chauffeur of a miserly cookie mogul, Miss Crock (Elaine Stritch). A thoroughly nasty old biddy, Miss Crock treats Willard as an indentured servant and behaves as though she’s doing him a favor by not treating him worse.

Willard’s father worked himself to death for the ungrateful crone. After 15 years of service, Willard appears ready to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Famished for revenge, Willard and buddy Rusty P. Hayes (Dave Chappelle) hatch a plot to kidnap Miss Crock’s beloved pet, a small dog whose bark isn’t nearly as a bad as his bite. Not surprisingly, the dog outwits the would-be abductors and escapes from their truck.

But when Miss Crock discovers the ransom note — along with all the blood that gushed from Willard’s hand when the dog gnawed him — she assumes that Willard has been snatched.

At first, the tight-fisted cookie mogul is unwilling to pay the $ 5 million ransom. But when her refusal proves to be a public relations disaster, she reluctantly agrees — with a little prodding from Chip Oswald (Sherman Hemsley) , her chief business adviser — to fork over the money.

Willard and Rusty hope to cover their tracks after grabbing the cash by faking Willard’s death.To this end, they try to obtain a corpse from zany coroner Grover Cleaver (Danny DeVito), who’s promised $ 100,000 for his help. One thing leads to another, the ransom pickup is botched, Willard winds up in a hospital bed — and the coroner is implicated in the faux kidnapping. Nothing good comes of this.

Additional complications are introduced serving only to make the pic longer, not funnier. Although it lasts merely 81 minutes — and, mind you, that’s counting all of the closing credits — “Screwed” feels padded and repetitious. Sporadically, Alexander and Karaszewski toss a few gross-out gags into the mix. But they’re too timid — or too eager for a PG-13 rating — to try anything more outrageous than a geyser of blood from Willard’s dog-bitten hand or a few odd objects retrieved from colons by the cheery Grover. Instead of qualifying as black comedy, “Screwed” often comes off as dingy gray silliness.

Macdonald was showcased to better advantage in his first starring vehicle, “Dirty Work” — which, come to think of it, also was withheld from critics before its opening day. Chappelle makes an adequate foil and has a few modestly amusing moments, but Stritch sustains a single, shrill note of brassy bitchiness throughout.

DeVito doesn’t show up until a third of the way into “Screwed” as the demented coroner with an inexplicable passion for “Hawaii Five-0.” Even so, DeVito manages to do a lot more for the pic than the pic does for him. As the cop in charge of the kidnapping case, Daniel Benzali walks around looking like a man with a bad taste in his mouth or an actor who knows he’s made a bad career choice.

Drab cinematography by Robert Brinkman doesn’t exactly enhance the less-than-festive mood. Other tech credits are no better than necessary.

Screwed

Production: A Universal Pictures release of a Robert Simonds/Brad Grey production. Produced by Robert Simonds. Executive producers, Brad Grey, Ray Reo. Co-producers, Fitch Cady, Julia Dray. Directed, written by Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Robert Brinkman; editor, Michael Jablow; production designer, Mark Freeborn; art director, Sandi Tanaka; music, Michael Colombier; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), David Husby; assistant director, Morgan Beggs. Reviewed at Cinemark Tinseltown Westchase, Houston, May 12, 2000. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 81 MIN.

With: Willard Fillmore - Norm Macdonald
Rusty P. Hayes - Dave Chappelle
Miss Crock - Elaine Stritch
Grover Cleaver - Danny DeVito
Detective Tom Dewey - Daniel Benzali
Chip Oswald - Sherman Hemsley
Hillary - Sarah Silverman
Roger - Malcolm Stewart

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