21 SEPTEMBER 1991, Page 49


Life Stinks (`12', Odeon Haymarket) Trust (`15', Cannon Chelsea)

Uneasy laughter

Harriet Waugh

Not every film can be a winner even when from a master of the comic art and Life Stinks is a disappointment. Mel Brooks directs, produces, writes and stars in it. It is in as much bad taste as his masterpiece The Producers but unlike that film there are only two occasions when the humour total- ly transcends the material. Mel Brooks plays Goddard Bolt (`call me God'), a billionaire property tycoon and skunk. His billionaire rival is Vance Crass- well (Jeffrey Tambor) and they each own half of a down-town Los Angeles slum inhabited by derelicts. Each wishes to demolish this eyesore and erect a memorial to himself. In Goddart Bolt's plans it will become a futuristic city called Bolt City. In order to gain Cresswell's half of the slum he enters into a bet with him that he will survive 30 days amongst the derelicts of the area without his name, credit cards or money. If he fails Cresswell will have his half. So handing over his empire to his three bad men (all lawyers) he is dumped from his limousine on to skid row where he experiences man's inhumanity to man out- side that of a balance sheet.

Thd first difficulty with the comedy is that life on these Los Angeles streets is so truly awful and shocking that laughter comes uneasily. It is as though someone came up with the splendid idea of explor- ing the comic possibilities of an Ethiopian refugee camp for the starving. Mel Brooks tries to overcome this problem and lighten the load by introducing three lovable down-and-outs. Since life on the streets does not seem so terrible for them maybe it is really all right to laugh• after all; the half- eaten sandwich rescued from the bin becomes more palatable. The three charac- ters who produce the warm-hearted centre to the story are a good-natured black alco- holic, a happy old fool called 'Sailor' and an implausibly pretty bag lady called Molly (Lesley Ann Warren). She is the love inter- est and her problems are only picturesque.

The trouble with Life Stinks is that it lurches from a shocking reality into senti- mentality and then to a finale in which it only takes a fairy Goddard to wave his lovely dollar wand and all the derelicts and poor of Los Angeles can live happily ever after in low-cost housing. There are, how- ever, the two very funny sequences that lift off into vintage Brooks.

Trust, written and directed by Hal Hart- ley, is an oddity. Described as a comedy, there is only one line of dialogue that caused a ripple of laughter when I watched it and that was when the heroine asks the hero, 'Are you emotionally disturbed?' Filled with interesting but unlikely dia- logue, it tells the story of how Maria, a pretty, empty-headed, feckless middle- American teenager, finds maturity.

Maria (Adrienne Shelly), having drop- ped out of high school, tells her parents that she is pregnant. Her father tells her she is a slut; she slaps his face; he falls down dead. This all happens within the first five minutes. Later, wandering the streets having been thrown out by her mother for killing her father, she meets Matthew Slaughter (Martin Donovan), who mends television sets for a crooked company and is sickened by his existence. Anyway he hates television. He is also an intellectual (he reads books) and nurses a hand grenade. He offers Maria a bed for the night. A bizarre little love story unfolds satirising the awfulness of suburban life, told in strange, oblique language. I am not sure it adds up to anything very much but it is engaging and lingers with you. I recom- mend it.