[8 October 2007]
So they’re back. Three of the boys from Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or MST3K to those in the know) are have returned, mocking your favorite C movies you never knew existed. Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo), Mike Nelson (Mike Nelson) and Bill Corbett (some writer or something) have found a new premise: giving DVD commentary to every movie in existence. In their third outing as “The Film Crew”, they tackle The Wild Women of Wongo, a pre-exploitation bikini romp complete with awful set pieces, worse acting and more foam crocodiles than you can shake a stick at.
The premise of The Wild Women of Wongo is quite awkward and captivating: 10,000 years ago, Mother Nature conducted a human experiment by creating two contrasting tribes, one, Wongo, where all the women were beautiful and the men brutes; and Guna, where the men have the looks the females lack. Setting aside all of the evolutionary arguments that could make this premise revealing or poignant, the women of Wongo tribe revolt and take the gorgeous Guna males prisoners with plastic spears while wearing anachronistically underwired cave-women clothing. Clearly rife with hilarity and ripe for the mocking, The Film Crew steps in and unleashes 90 minutes of banter that MST3K fans have been wanting for the last 10 years.
There are some great jokes that explode out of the film. When a lanky, puffy white-haired man saunters on-screen and Kevin utters, “What’s going on, Jim Jarmusch?” my indie bone is tickled just right and I easily remember why the television show had such a following. Other jokes showcase their impeccable delivery: during Mother Nature’s opening narration: “We have made our mistakes. There was one about 10,000 years ago, when we tried a topsy-turvy experiment with the human race…” someone interrupts with “We gave them blowholes!” with just the right amount of absurd enthusiasm to make even Wes Anderson fans smile.
But these moments are strained greatly in between the fart jokes, fat jokes, and just silly, childish humor. When an annoying talking parrot is met with, “Polly want a hand grenade?” you can feel the cringe rising from the depths of your body. And the amount of lesbian, faux-masculine “Yeah, baby!” jokes eventually run dry.
Additionally, there’s a rawness that’s lacking in much of the timing. The lines are edited to appear just as the “joke” comes on-screen, and these too-quick-to-be-real quips fall flat. An obvious goal of the “crew” is to re-create a room full of your friends having fun at a movie’s expense. But unless your pals are clairvoyant, the timing on some jokes just isn’t right; the punch lines are delivered just as you’re processing the set-up. These obvious audio edits take away from the sharp wit we all know these men have.
In addition, the vignettes in between the Wongo scenes are lackluster and horribly forced. Even the thin science-fiction premise of MST3K gave the scenes featuring the eccentric characters on the Satellite of Love an excuse to exist. But the slipshod dialogue and production of the Film Crew’s office scenes makes me long for the paradise of Wongo. Most of the lines are stepped on by the other two actors’ ridiculous hamming and constant smirks toward the camera. The scenes are so clearly second thought that unresolved plot-threads are dropped from break to break. The unfinished gag from the introduction, no one in the office is able turn off the air-conditioning, is forgotten by the first break to go into a different bit. I was surprised to see the group back to their normal health status, making no mention of the blankets and winter jackets they were previously wearing. If this appeared intentional, or at least referenced, I would consider the drop a comedic choice, but that doesn’t seem the case at all.
The other interesting loss from the old MTS3K series, which I did not expect, is the Film Crew’s addition of the entire bad movie. Unlike episodes of Mystery Science Theater, where the film’s scenes are cut so drastically that following the plot is an impossible effort, The Wild Women of Wongo is shown in its entirety. Because of this continuity, I found myself tuning out “those annoying guys in the back of the theater” to pay attention and analyze the movie myself. This makes the Film Crew more of a bother and less the spotlight and finding witty things to say for an entire feature is much harder than for the span of a television program. Perhaps their humor is best suited for people who don’t watch awful movies for the comic enjoyment.
Maybe The Film Crew: Wild Women of Wongo is worth the purchase because, though the extras are scant, there are two movies in one. The first is a second-rate comedy that has it shining moments. The other is an entertaining piece of derivative movie culture, showing a time when moviemakers figured all it took to get people excited were one-piece bikinis and ocean-side fights with tiny, foam alligators. Then again, maybe times haven’t changed as much as I’ve thought.