'SATURDAY NIGHT' DIVE
WHY 'SNL' MOVIES ARE NO LAUGHING MATTER.
Somewhere in comedy heaven, John Belushi’s famous samurai warrior is probably on the brink of hara-kiri. After all, it was Belushi who paved the way for a new franchise in entertainment in the late ’70s and early ’80s: the Saturday Night Live movie. During SNL’s golden age of greasy hair and flared jeans, Belushi and cohorts Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Eddie Murphy were deft at playing off their television high jinks and converting them into box office gold.
Not anymore. Sure, the show’s gonzo alchemists once churned out such hoot-worthy hits as The Blues Brothers, Caddyshack, and Trading Places, but the latest gang at Rockefeller Center hasn’t sent anyone laughing all the way to the bank. Less than three years after the slackjawed success of Wayne’s World, which refueled the SNL movie machine and arguably launched the current ”dumb comedy” wave, almost every SNL alum has his own flop to bear (see chart).
Lately, the only thing close to an SNL box office bonanza came from Adam Sandler’s kindergarten gimmick Billy Madison, which opened at No. 1 — and then flunked out. Aside from an MTV advertising blitz and decent buzz for this week’s Chris Farley- David Spade comedy, Tommy Boy, the future for SNL flicks looks grim and grimmer. Sources say that Stuart Smalley Saves His Family, based on Al Franken’s satirical 12-stepping character sketch, has elbowed its early-March opening to mid-April because of editing and reshoots.
Even Dana Carvey (who starred in Trapped in Paradise and Clean Slate) is feeling the burn. ”There’s so much anger out there,” Carvey says of public response to recent SNL movies. ”They’re saying, ‘You guys were so great on SNL, but then you go out to Hollywood and you’re just being greedy a — holes.”’ Not that Carvey blames them. ”I’d rather bus tables than make more s — — y movies,” he says.
The trouble with SNL-based films, some believe, is SNL. ”It’s a cycle,” says Michael De Luca, president of New Line. ”When the show is slumping, the players are more interested in movies, but the studios aren’t. Now they’re not even coming up with skits that can be turned into movies.” NBC’s night-owl legend has taken a lot of shots lately, from a scathing episode of The Critic (the troupe was dubbed the ”not-good-enough-for- feature-film players”) to a blistering New York magazine cover story that revealed SNL’s once-madcap spirit being sapped by a weak talent pool, lethargy, and on-set strife. At the vortex of the storm is longtime executive producer Lorne Michaels, who has generated most of the SNL-tinged movies for Paramount. While Michaels can claim credit for Wayne’s World, some critics accuse him of ”ruling by laissez-faire,” as one Hollywood director puts it. It’s the kind of talk that makes Bernie Brillstein, the producer and talent manager who reps Michaels and several SNL players past and present — including Carvey, Mike Myers, Phil Hartman, and Farley — bristle. ”Will somebody give this guy a break?” he groans. ”Wayne’s World started a whole new trend and, I believe, opened it up for Jim Carrey. Most producers get one hit every nine times at bat. Lorne’s record is much better than that.”