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"Meet Wally Sparks" Was Bad! "How Bad Was It?" It Was So Bad . . .
Poor Rodney Dangerfield. The man was a comic legend who seemed to do everything right when it came to stand-up comedy. The guy not only made a name for himself later in life, becoming a household name while in his mid-50's, but he also mentored future big name comedians including Jim Carrey, Sam Kinison, Bob Saget, Roseanne, Tim Allen, and many others. For a while, it seemed like he could be great in movies, too. "Caddyshack" (1980) is still a comedy classic, while "Easy Money" (1983) and "Back To School" (1986) showed he could headline a movie successfully as well.
Although "Ladybugs" (1992) was not a perfect movie, it still had its laughs. Then came "Meet Wally Sparks" (1997), Rodney's final theatrically-released movie in which he had a starring role (thereby excluding his chilling supporting role in "Natural Born Killers" (1994), and a strong cameo in "Little Nicky" (2000)). Dangerfield would have many more bad movies to come ("The Godson" (1999), "Back By Midnight" (2002)), but all of those would go straight to video.
It is amazing that "Meet Wally Sparks" did not go directly to video upon its release, because it is void of laughs (even from Mr. No Respect himself), its jokes and physical gags are almost always predictable, its characters are carbon copied from better movies, and its plot is completely all over the place.
So who is Wally Sparks? As you find in the first five minutes of the film, he is a talk show host similar to Jerry Springer and Sally Jesse Raphael (both of whom cameo as themselves in this movie). His on-air antics violate many FCC regulations, causing sponsors to pull their advertising. TV network owner Lenny Spencer (Burt Reynolds, sporting a ridiculous-looking toupee that served as a missed joke opportunity for Dangerfield) seriously considers pulling the plug on the controversial show, but Sparks' producer Sandy Gallo (Debi Mazar, best known as Ray Liotta's coke-addicted mistress in "Goodfellas" (1990)) makes a last ditch effort to save their careers. She plans on having Sparks tape his show from the house of his most staunch critic, Georgia governor Floyd Preston (David Ogden Stiers), while also staying at his house.
In a contrived plot point that is not very well executed, Governor Preston is advised not to simply kick Sparks out of his house because the poll numbers for his U.S. Senate campaign suggest that Sparks' presence will give him a better chance of winning his upcoming election. With Sparks continuing to scrape the bottom of the barrel by inviting guests on his show ranging from porn stars to steroid-induced professional wrestlers, hilarity ensues in the Governor's mansion. Or does it?
The answer is no. "Meet Wally Sparks" is a prime example of a movie that, through outrageous physical gags, tries way too hard to be funny. Dangerfield's one-liners also feel weak and incredibly forced. When he rides a drunken horse into a cocktail party held by Gov. Preston, he actually says, "Hey, quit horsing around!" All I could do was sigh, and wish that Bill Murray would appear chasing a gopher.
Of course, Murray doesn't make an appearance in this movie. Instead, we have a barrage of useless celebrity cameos. Most of them are by real talk show hosts, and A-list stand-up comedians appear as well. Perhaps the least impressive cameo was by Michael Bolton, who loves Wally Sparks' show so much that he sings a song and dedicates it to him. Who made this movie and thought a cameo by such a second-rate adult contemporary artist would benefit this movie? On the other hand, not even appearances by celebrities who actually do have talent, such as Jay Leno and Tim Allen, succeeded in bringing any more laughs.
In the midst of the predictable humor and wasted cameos, the plot was all over the place. The fact that Wally Sparks is a controversial talk show host would have brought enough laughs if it was incorporated into a story that spoofed the talk show trend of the 1990's. Before reality shows, celebrities were all about having their own talk shows. There could have been some way to parody that TV trend.
Instead, we get a mess of a story involving a politician who is less concerned with improving the budget of his state, and instead wastes his time fighting against a show clearly protected by the First Amendment. There are also complicated subplots involving a love story between Sparks' son and Gov. Preston's daughter, Sparks himself pretending to be paralyzed, a conspiracy over a theme park being built over a Civil War battle ground, and a hoax sex scandal that potentially jeopardizes Preston's hopes of being elected Senator.
The movie feels too long at 105 minutes, primarily because the subplots throw off the pace of the story. After only an hour, I wanted this film done because I didn't care about any of the characters. I just wanted the last hour of my life back.
Rodney Dangerfield is still one of the greatest stand-up comedians ever. It's just too bad that he never made a funny film after "Back To School". The fact that he co-wrote the screenplay to this movie does not help his legacy. He made a wise move by not appearing in "Caddyshack II" (1987), but somehow his fate with future movies was not as well-thought- out.
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