WFTB Score: 8/20
The plot: A party bucket of skits, spoofs and saucy silliness, reflecting popular culture in 1970s America. Targets include daytime television, public information films, kung fu movies and exploitation cinema in all its guises.
Kentucky Fried Movie is a film so of its time that attempting a review of it in the 21st Century, or giving it a score, is an almost completely redundant exercise – although, as you will note, I am doing both out of sheer bloody-mindedness. The premise is simple, the writers – David and Jerry Zucker, and Jim Abrahams – doing for contemporary TV and film what Airplane! and Police Squad/Naked Gun later did for disaster movies and cop shows respectively, namely taking the Michael something rotten.
The targets are television reporting and advertising, but mainly exploitation films of the 70s (under the banner “Samuel L Bronkowitz presents”), with main feature A Fistful of Yen providing the body of the film, a Bruce Lee send-up taking up just under half an hour of the film’s 84 or so minutes.
A Fistful of Yen typifies the problems of the whole film: whilst it competently mimics the chop-socky genre, Evan Kim playing a secret agent tasked with infiltrating the secret base of Dr. Klahn and rescuing a scientist’s beautiful daughter, most of the jokes are very slapstick in nature, and wilfully zany. Whilst some of the jokes hit, after a short time this approach becomes tiring; and with little attention paid to plot or character, and most of the cast completely unknown (especially to non-American audiences), it is easy for the viewer’s mind to switch off.
Thankfully, A Fistful of Yen is paid off with a lovely Wizard of Oz gag and very few of the other sketches last long enough to outstay their welcome, “Courtroom” being the worst example of an idea having nowhere to go and quickly descending into punning and mugging to the camera.
Elsewhere, the creative team appear determined to push the boundaries as far as they will go, enjoying the liberal nudity of Catholic High School Girls in Trouble (and a later segment where the Eyewitness News team witness more than they should) and the cross-cultural exploitation of Cleopatra Schwartz. I also enjoyed the appeal on behalf of the dead, whilst admitting that it’s pretty tasteless.
Whilst the enthusiasm of the Kentucky Fried Theater is commendable, much of the Kentucky Fried Movie simply doesn’t work thirty years on. In part this is due to the material it lampoons – since the legend of Deep Throat has survived references to it still have some resonance, but this is not true for many of the other sketches which pass straight over a modern viewer’s head. Also, the enthusiasm is unrestrained, throwing everything at the screen all the time and – unlike Airplane!, for example – not knowing how to mix up the humour or give the audience the occasional pause for breath.
But, as I said at the top, it really matters little: I doubt the filmmakers had the slightest thought of posterity in their minds when releasing the film, which is as ephemerally satisfying as the fast food that supplies its name. The Zucker/Zucker/Abrahams trio built on the foundations of this film to go on to greater things in the 1980s – and, it must be said, significantly less great things in recent years (eg. Scary Movie 4).