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A Futile and Stupid Gesture (2018)

TV-MA | | Biography, Comedy | 26 January 2018 (USA)
In the 1970s and '80s, National Lampoon's success and influence creates a new media empire overseen in part by the brilliant and troubled Douglas Kenney.


David Wain
2,777 ( 17)
2 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Frank Gingerich ... Doug - Age 12
Morgan Gingerich ... Doug - Age 12
Annette O'Toole ... Stephanie Kenney
Harry Groener ... Harry Kenney
Martin Mull ... Modern Doug
David Wain ... Interviewer
Domhnall Gleeson ... Henry Beard
Will Forte ... Douglas Kenney
Ben F. Campbell ... Harvard Jester (as Ben Campbell)
Jon Klaft ... Preppy Student
Camille Guaty ... Alex Garcia-Mata
Brad Morris ... Peter Ivers
Carla Gallo ... Lucy Fisher
Beau Bassewitz ... Umpire
Rick Overton ... First Publisher


An old version of humorist Douglas Kenney tells the story of how he and Henry Beard parleyed their success in their campus magazine, Harvard Lampoon, into the commercial magazine, National Lampoon. Drawing upon their checkered lives and an aggressively puckish sense of humor, the pair created a publication that would redefine American comedy with outrageous drollery that grabbed the zeitgeist of the decade that expanded across various media. Unfortunately, for all his success, Doug Kenney with his overhanging insecurities, ego and irresponsible appetites began to consume him until he alienates everyone who ever cared and supported him even as they imitated him. In the end, this iconoclastic funnyman would come to a tragedy that comes when your comedy doesn't have enough distance. Written by Kenneth Chisholm (kchishol@rogers.com)

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Being the King of Comedy is No Joke. See more »


Biography | Comedy


TV-MA | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

26 January 2018 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Eine nutzlose und dumme Geste See more »

Filming Locations:

Los Angeles, California, USA See more »


Box Office


$30,000,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

1.90 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


When Doug and Chevy are discussing scripts (1:10), Doug makes mention of "Chris's resort thing." This is a reference to Chris Miller's script for "Club Paradise" which was later made into a Robin Williams movie. See more »


The man pushing the rotary lawn mower in the opening scene is pushing the mower backwards. See more »


Tom Snyder: Mr. Kenney, it's a fine line between being clever and offensive, isn't it?
Douglas Kenney: Look, if I could just say something in defense of National Lampoon for one moment...
Tom Snyder: Please.
Douglas Kenney: We come from a tradition of truth-tellers. A long time ago, there was someone else society found offensive. They thought that what he did was radical - dangerous. They persecuted him... and eventually killed him. Of course, I'm referring to Dracula.
See more »

Crazy Credits

After the end credits have rolled, Martin Mull is shown singing the song "Time of My Life" with members of the cast. See more »


References The Great Escape (1963) See more »


Funky Broadway Part 1
Written by Arlester Christian
Performed by Dyke and the Blazers (as Dyke & The Blazers)
Courtesy of The Bicycle Music Company
See more »

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User Reviews

A messy biopic
27 June 2018 | by eddie_bagginsSee all my reviews

All of us at some time or another have had a National Lampoon's experience.

Perhaps it was a sneaky viewing of Animal House when you were too young to do so, watching the Griswold's various eventful vacations or maybe some golfing antics in the form of Caddyshack, National Lampoon's played an important part in mainstream comedy events of the late 70's and 80's and therefore has played a part in our lives at some stage or another.

Looking to provide insight into how this world-wide recognised brand came to be, Wet Hot American Summer director David Wain has assembled a capable cast to front his Netflix distributed biopic A Futile and Stupid Gesture but this 90 minute feature will leave many more casually interested fans left wanting, while diehard fans will quickly begin to realise that well-renowned documentary Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is a much more assured and insightful look at the rise and fall of main National Lampoon campaigner and co-creator Doug Kenney.

Here played by cult figure Will Forte, Kenney is a complicated and hard to read figure that remains an illusively mysterious character throughout Wain's feature and a figure that's hard to fully connect with both due to the fact Kenney is a rather obnoxious person and that Forte feels out of his depth with a role that's hard work for the actor, particularly in the times Forte is tasked with bringing a college aged Kenney to life in the films early stages.

Surrounded by quality actors such as a near unrecognisable Domhnall Gleeson as Kenney's partner in crime Henry Beard, Emmy Rossum as Kenney's second wife Kathryn Walker and supporting turns from the likes of Ed Helms and curiously Joel McHale as Chevy Chase, Forte never fully convinces in his lead turn while most actors struggle to make an impact as Wain's focus continually stops and starts as Futile's brief but cluttered 90 minute runtime moves forward.

Adopting a rather unique approach to proceedings and trying its best to divert from the usual biopic by the numbers rulebook, Wain's film isn't afraid to break the 4th wall and even at one stage admits to all the things its skipped over or changed for dramatic license but at the end of the day Wain's film still feels rather generic and most disappointingly like a National Lampoon's greatest hits parade, showcasing all the things we expected to see (e.g. Animal House's inception, Chevy Chase doing far too many illegal drugs) without ever really surprising viewers in any meaningful way.

Final Say -

The story of National Lampoon and Kenney is a story worth telling and a no doubt intriguing one for fans of the comedic brand but A Futile and Stupid Gesture feels like a missed opportunity to fully encapsulate the brands inception and the beginning of a whole new era of comedy.

2 studio lot fisticuffs out of 5

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