Thursday, May 20, 2010


Arguably, SCTV was one of the most innovative and influential television comedies of its time. Not only did it launch the careers of talented stars such as John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Martin Short and Eugene Levy, but it playfully messed the idea of what sketch comedy could be. Set in the mythical town of Melonville, the SCTV station was home to a variety of bizarre and low-budget programming, spoofing network and cable access television. Each week the viewer would be transported not only to the shows shown on SCTV but to the inner workings of SCTV itself. It was fast-paced, innovative and very funny. Inevitably, the idea of an SCTV movie was pitched to the studios. That movie became Strange Brew, starring Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis as the very Canadian MacKenzie Brothers. It was not Going Berserk starring Candy, Levy and Flaherty. But it was supposed to be.

Directed by the authentically-funny David Steinberg who wrote the script with the genuinely “okay” Dana Olsen, Going Berserk is a typical mishegoss of un- or vaguely-related scenes strung together by two-dimensional characters and a works-or-doesn’t premise. Like Police Academy, Animal House, Zapped, etc., there’s a lot going on in Going Berserk, little of it makes much sense and, amazingly, even less of it is funny.

Candy stars as John Bourgignon, a wanna-be drummer who co-owns a limo company with Chick Leff (Flaherty), but they owe money to sleazy movie producer Sal DiPasquale (Levy—his sole film credit was as creator of Kung Fu U…yes, we get a clip of it). John is getting married to Nancy, daughter of Senator Ed Reese, and Sal wants to shoot the wedding. In the meantime, Reese (who hates John because he’s a loser) has made an enemy of the Reverend Sun Yi Day (Richard Libertini), a spiritual leader who teaches that greed is just your god-granted desire for things that should be yours. Reese is trying to shut the Reverend down, so Sun Yi Day and his partners decide to brainwash John into shooting the Senator. Instead of unleashing his inner killer, the awake the uninhibited asshole within, so John mortifies everyone with inappropriate humor and dick jokes.

That’s the plot.

Around this are built elliptical gags where Candy does his patented over-reactions to extreme situations and does his self-conscious laugh (parodied by Flaherty in one scene). He accidentally gets into the middle of a brewing brawl between bikers and punks and both groups turn on him for being the least hip in the room. He winds up as a drummer-cum-bouncer at an all male strip review and is forced to battle the shrieking female audience members who attempt to molest the dancers. He gets arrested and handcuffed to Ernie Hudson and the two of them enact the movie’s sole funny sequence in a parody of The Defiant Ones. When the head to Hudson’s girlfriend’s apartment for a bout of going-away love-making, Candy is forced to stand outside the door—may I remind you once again that they’re handcuffed so their passion sends him slamming face-first into the doorjamb. As slapstick, that’s as good as the movie gets.

Now, there is no dispute that Candy, Levy and Flaherty are funny guys. SCTV is proof of that alone. But their film careers left a lot to be desired—and, in Levy’s case, continues to disappoint. Outside of an amusing parody of Father Knows Best, Flaherty has zero to do in Going Berserk, not as a comedian, not as a straight man. Levy does his best sleazy producer schtick and he’s well within his wheelhouse throughout, but there isn’t enough of him, and the material gives his straight men nothing to work with. His scenes are basically obscene monologues with Candy and Flaherty merely flesh props. Candy is amiable and perfectly aw-shucks as the well-meaning John. When responding to the berating of his future father-in-law, John explains his prospects as “Oh, I would say anywhere from thirty to eleven thousand a year, sir.” His facial reactions in scenes where the world is out of control are priceless. But when he’s under hypnosis, quite frankly, anyone could play those scenes of inappropriate humor and do the same job. Dick jokes were beneath Candy and that comes through. The same can be said for all the performances—none of the characters belong to the actors (with the possible exception of Levy) and were almost interchangeable in and of themselves.

It’s actually more entertaining to let your mind wander playing “Connections” during Going Berserk. For instance, Kurtwood Smith played the villainous Clarence Boddicker in Robocop and in Going Berserk his character is also named Clarence. Alley Mills went from the mom on The Wonder Years to that of a daffy executive on The Bold and the Beautiful. Ernie Hudson was in Ghostbusters and Candy was originally supposed to star in that as well, playing Rick Moranis’s role. Didn’t Richard Libertini play a role like this in All of Me? Hey, there’s Dixie Carter. Pat Hingle went on to play Commissioner Gordon in Burton’s Batman and who thought that was a good idea? Flaherty, as Count Floyd on SCTV, introduced a movie called “The Bloodsucking Monkeys from West Mifflin, PA”, which isn’t too far from my house. I used to go to the mall there…

Save for the sequence involving Hudson, Going Berserk has little going for it. The movie has almost no energy and has a disinterested sense of pace, as if everyone involved were disappointed before the first scene had been shot. It’s not surprising that the movie has basically faded from memory. Released to DVD in 2007 to no one’s insistence, it went quickly out of print. The trio went on to be sporadically funny in other movies (The Man, Hot to Trot, Nothing But Trouble and Who’s Harry Crumb notwithstanding). The best thing I can say about Going Berserk is that SCTV is available on DVD and should be watched at all costs. 

1 comment :

  1. Great article, yes, it's possibly the first SCTV movie, in a way. What a wonderful team of players. I had the pleasure of meeting Joe Flaherty and telling him how much SCTV meant to so many, and he was really happy.