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Will Forte Shines as Doug Kenney in A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE (Review)

Will Forte Shines as Doug Kenney in A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE (Review)

A few years back we got a colorful, compelling, and long overdue documentary about the infamous National Lampoon magazine called Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead. And while that film offered a well-crafted overview of the early days of National Lampoon, it didn’t really let us get to know any of the madmen who brought this bizarre comedy magazine from the halls of Harvard to the world at large. Fortunately we have a funny, subversive, and consistently entertaining new biopic called A Futile and Stupid Gesture that tries to tell the story of one Doug Kenney; a very talented man who died way too young.

Adapted by the book by Josh Karp, and brought to the screen with an impressive amount of organized chaos by David Wain, A Futile and Stupid Gesture (the title is a line from Animal House) doesn’t try to turn one of the National Lampoon founders into a saint or any sort of misunderstood misfit. Doug Kenney was just a funny guy who found success at an early age, started making some big mistakes (like lying, cheating, and hardcore drug abuse), and paid the ultimate price at the age of 33.

Perhaps best known as the co-writer of Animal House (1978) and Caddyshack (1980), Mr. Kenney was also co-responsible for all sorts of National Lampoon craziness. Not just the magazine and the movies, but a popular radio program and stage show as well. Plus books. Suffice to say that the man was a lot busier than he ever wanted to be, and despite a calm demeanor and confident sense of humor, he was often a neurotic mess inside his own head — and the movie never tries to make Kenney out as a hero or a villain. As portrayed (quite excellently) by Will Forte, Kenney is at points effortlessly charming, and at others quietly off-putting.

The movie would be interesting enough were it merely a flashback to the times and people that made National Lampoon, Animal House, and Caddyshack possible, but there’s also a lot of fun to be had in simply focusing on all the performances. I won’t ruin the surprises, but wait until you get a look at who gets to play Bill Murray, Christopher Guest, Tom Snyder, publisher Matty Simmons, writers Michael O’Donoghue, Anne Beats, P.J. O’Rourke, Chris Miller, director Ivan Reitman, and musician Paul Shaffer. Casting this film must have been a lot of fun, but Wain never lets the affair become a simplistic parade of celebrity caricatures. At the center of the film is a fraternal relationship between Kenney and his writing partner Henry Beard (an excellent Domhnall Gleason), and while the colorful supporting cast helps out at every turn, the movie is mainly about Doug.

To its credit, the film doesn’t shy away from Kenney’s shortcomings, nor does it offer a conventional biopic presentation. For example, the great Martin Mull narrates the film as the “present day” Doug Kenney. In another biopic this might seem outrageously disrespectful, but here Wain (and his writers Michael Colton and John Aboud) insist on breaking the fourth wall, planting weird meta-diversions, and basically refusing to behave like a conventional biopic. The result is a colorful, crazy, and occasionally tasteless movie. One suspects that Doug Kenney would have approved.

4.5 frankly absurd burritos out of 5

image: Netflix

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