Mel Brooks’ tall tale of a tycoon (Brooks) who bets he can survive, penniless, for a month in a Los Angeles slum is a comedy with something serious on its mind. The moral is that greed produces misery, but Brooks’ need to entertain blunts his satiric edge. His sentimental portrait of dereliction, though well meaning, is far too sanitized — another Hollywood fantasy about life on the rest of the planet. Lesley Ann Warren, for example, is obviously the first bag lady with access to a hair-and-makeup crew.
Although he has produced serious films (The Elephant Man) before, Brooks is a comic at heart. Some of Life Stinks is very funny, such as Brooks tap- dancing for dimes or, hospitalized, being given three whopper doses of Thorazine by mistake. But Brooks wants us to laugh at gags and, at the same time, get emotionally involved. He wants to have his cake and eat it, too — ironic for a movie about people who have to eat garbage. C