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One Movie Punch

Jan 27, 2018

Today’s movie is “A Futile & Stupid Gesture” (2018), starring Will Forte and Martin Mull as Doug Kenney, the co-founder of National Lampoon and the driving force behind “National Lampoon’s Animal House” and “Caddyshack”. The film takes a slightly sanitized look at Kenney’s early days at the Harvard Lampoon through the release of “Caddyshack”, with an insane ensemble cast representing some of the biggest names in comedy during the 1970s and 1980s.

The film is told in mostly chronological order, using Martin Mull as a modern Doug Kenney narrating his story and Will Forte turning in an excellent performance as 1970s Doug Kenney. This storytelling choice opens up a lot of potential which director David Wain and writers Michael Colton and John Aboud exploit with zeal, full of excellent camera work, plenty of fourth wall breaks, and saturated with one-liners, keeping the audience on their toes.

Doug’s story is broken up into three distinct sections. The first section revolves around the formation and rise of the National Lampoon magazine by Doug and Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson), including the assembly of the now legendary writing team, and their expansion into other mediums and venues. The second section follows Doug’s first major breakdown, when he leaves the magazine unexpectedly, and the chaos surrounding the media empire when he returns and Henry leaves. The last section follows Doug’s relationship with Chevy Chase (Joel McHale) and Doug’s brief career in films, with only two credits before having another breakdown.

Doug’s personal life takes a mostly back seat in the film, but inserts itself for the major highlights. And while the focus in “A Futile & Stupid Gesture” is on Doug Kenney, surrounding the film is the rise of an entire generation of writers and actors directly influenced by National Lampoon, and insightful looks into how Doug reacted to every success and failure, his own and those of others.

It would be difficult to measure the impact of National Lampoon on comedy as a whole, or the influence of Doug Kenney’s work when he was at his best. The film does sanitize a lot of the very offensive content they published, and while I don’t think we’ve lost anything significant in developing political/social correctness, I do think the boundaries that Doug and Henry pushed opened up entirely new avenues for comedy, some of which are still being explored today. I would like to believe folks can appreciate his genius while still being critical of his choices, and I believe the film does a great job riding that line.

Rotten Tomatoes: 56%

Metacritic: 55

One Movie Punch: 8.2/10

“A Futile & Stupid Gesture” (2018) is rated TV-MA and is streaming on Netflix.