Madhouse is a Murphy’s Law movie, the kind that places characters in familiar situations — a visit to New York in ”The Out-of-Towners,” relocation in ”Moving” — only to find yuks in the escalating calamity.
For this L.A. yuppie couple, played by Kirstie Alley and John Larroquette, Murphy’s scourge is houseguests, subgenus relatives-from-Hell. It’s a fertile premise, but writer-director Tom Ropelewski has sabotaged his own movie with cheap slapstick and shrill caricatures. The tacky New Jersey cousin with the nauseous cat, the gold-digging sister, the drug-running nephew — these are cruel cartoons, as grating to the viewer as they are to their hosts.
Tucked between the pratfalls, though, is some surprisingly deft comedy. As their success in TV comedy suggests, Larroquette and Alley (Night Court and Cheers, respectively) are both solid comic actors. The moments in which they just sit and banter are charming. And when Larroquette cajoles henpecked cousin Fred to relive his teen glory by dancing to the Four Tops’ ”Bernadette,” it’s a moment that’s both touching and gut-funny. These bits show director Ropelewski to have a real knack for offbeat, recognizably human characters. If he trusted his audience at all, he wouldn’t have to squander his talent on crass jokes. C