|HD DVD Comedy|
|Written by Darren Gross|
|Friday, 01 September 2006|
Young caddy Danny (Michael O’Keefe) is trying to raise money for college while working at Bushwood Country Club. As he tries to get the elitist Judge Smails (Ted Knight) to take him under his wing, he is befriended by rich layabout Ty Webb (Chevy Chase). Although Danny has a girlfriend, Maggie (Sarah Holcomb), he tries to make headway with Smails’s randy niece Lacey Underall (Cindy Morgan). Meanwhile, Judge Smails is being driven into apoplectic fits by rude, crude and tacky entrepreneur Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield) whose country club decorum is far from refined, as well as by dim groundskeeper Carl (Bill Murray), who’s on a crusade to eliminate a singularly destructive gopher.
Harold Ramis’s first directorial outing is a scattershot affair, its hit or miss gags spread throughout a series of rambling sequences and poorly developed characters. On the surface, a loose narrative framework for a series of gags and improvised bits by top film and TV comedians of the day sounds sturdy enough, but the whole enterprise is so ineptly handled and clumsily done, that one sits there confused at how disappointing and lacking the final result is. As an “HBO Kid” I grew up with a generation that heard about “Caddyshack” years before I was actually allowed to see it and had some of the gags replayed by fellow teens who somehow had seen the ‘R’-rated comedy in the theater. Later on, “Caddyshack” in its entirety and piece-meal ran dozens of times on cable and on commercial television. I imagine as dumb kids found just the idea of bad language, fart jokes, vomiting and Murray’s idiot gardener to be so mind-blowingly funny, the movie became some kind of second tier comedy “legend” whose perennial visibility has helped to give it some kind of a reputation.
Unfortunately, after 26 years, there’s nothing left of “Caddyshack” but its reputation, and that has dated badly. One doesn’t really laugh at “Caddyshack” nowadays, but instead, when you chuckle, you relive the memory of the laughs it once generated. It’s reminiscent of a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” type experience where the dialogue and funny scenes are re-experienced as a ritual and laughed at not as a natural reaction to the material, but because having laughed before, it’s become the expected knee-jerk reaction. The bottom line is the movie really isn’t very funny. Perhaps there was a time when just the fact a movie featured profanity or scatological humor was in itself funny, but after decades of one-upmanship in that regard, it’s no longer all that amusing. The story is a ragged, unfocused mess and no worthwhile lead character or storyline ever rises to the surface; basic storytelling skills are completely absent. The final result seems like a giant missed opportunity. Dangerfield is probably the funniest performer, but his stale Borscht-belt shtick seems tired and obvious. Heck, he had better one-liners in “Ladybugs”! What Dangerfield does bring to the picture is energy. His enormous physical gestures and the way he catches your attention on screen gives the movie a dose of electricity it desperately needs.
The main plot-line concerning O’Keefe’s attempts to ingratiate himself to get money for college is so uninteresting and his character so lifeless, that the focus naturally is shifted to the comedians. Alas, none of them has been worked into the storyline with finesse or guiding reason for being. Chevy Chase’s half-mumbled asides are more odd than funny and he has neither a character to play nor a storyline to work with. Murray’s been much better elsewhere (even in “Meatballs” a few films earlier), and his idiotic groundskeeper character is amusing in an odd way, but he also isn’t part of the story and scenes with him frequently have no reason for being other than to generate laughs, which they usually don’t. A prime example is a long scene between Chase and Murray, filmed when it was realized that the two never had a scene together. It’s a nearly endless scene that has no function within the story and isn’t funny enough to justify its inclusion or its sheer length. You just sit there waiting for either of them to do something really uproarious, but it never happens. In fact, that’s the problem with most of the comedy sequences: most are simply not funny enough to warrant our ongoing interest. While the water ballet sequence is cute, it’s completely at odds with the tone of the film, and its brand of non-sequitur visual humor feels like something more appropriate for a Joe Dante or John Landis film. In the midst of this limp gallery of goofery, Ted Knight shines. Playing the only real character in the film, Knight steals most of the scenes with his mix of stiff effrontery contrasting well with his red-faced apoplectic tantrums. It’s a large, eye-rolling performance, but he does a fine job playing against Dangerfield.
While a bit rough visually, “Caddyshack” is well-represented by the HD DVD transfer. The opening credits display swimming, mosquito-esque grain throughout, but this is inherent in the original dupey title cards and not in the transfer. Throughout the rest of the feature, there’s a fine level of detail and clarity visible. Dangerfield’s grotesque and tacky golf outfits are well-rendered, with a full vibrant palette. Imagery is frequently colorful and sharp, with the image extremely clean and pleasing, especially facial close-ups. Wider shots tend to look a bit softer. There’s one goof on the color-timing in a scene where Bill Murray sneaks up on the dinner party. While the party takes place at night, the shots of Murray are all presented as normal daylight, when they should have been dimmed and tinted to look like day for night. The HD DVD is clean enough to reveal flaws in the original photography, such as the occasionally underlit interiors and dark night exteriors which appear murkier and grainer than the rest of the film’s bright daylight exteriors.
The film has been remixed in 5.1 and it’s a mixed bag. Dialogue in the first 10 minutes or so is a bit murky and everything feels directed to the center channel. As the film goes on, the surround field becomes wider, and the boat scene and golfing in the rain sequence have a little more presence. During the water ballet sequence, the music is extremely distorted from the center channel and a scene about two thirds in with the doctor’s beeper going off seems a bit off, as the sound is placed too loudly in the back left speaker, which doesn’t match the on-screen action at all, and pulls one right out of the film. The songs and orchestral score have a bit more presence than the rest of the sound effects track. With an uneven surround remix, it’s regretful that the original English 1.0 track wasn’t included.
The supplemental “Caddyshack: The 19th Hole” runs 31 mins and features most of the key players involved in the production (though lead Michael O’Keefe and actor, co-writer Brian Doyle-Murray are missed). It’s a talking heads piece, featuring a very bemused group. It doesn’t do more than touch the surface of the film, and it’s edited a bit too fast for its own good. There are so many people interviewed, there surely was enough material for a more substantial featurette. There are a few outtakes included here, but none are of very much interest. Unfortunately a cut scene (an alternate scene for Murray and Chase on the golf course with a giant riding lawnmower) added for the TV version is referenced and glimpsed, but not shown in its entirety. The featurette also makes use of snippets from some behind-the=scenes “home movie” type footage, which would have been nice to see at greater length. The “Theatrical Trailer” also includes several snippets of scenes that didn’t make the final cut. Given the large audience for the film, the supplements seem a bit thin, especially considering how unsatisfying the feature film is.