Dumb as a Box of Rocks
I’ve heard of suffering for your art. But I don’t think I should have to suffer for someone else’s art. Not that The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas qualifies as art — in fact, it could only be called a “creative” endeavor in the widest, most liberal use of the term. Yes, images that had never been seen before were committed to film. But why?
Anyone who has watched TV in the last 40 years will be familiar with the premise of the cartoon series The Flintstones, which was basically The Honeymooners cast back into a fantasy Paleolithic era, minus the latter show’s desperate, heart-wrenching comedy. Dinosaurs and humans coexist side by side, and allegedly humorous stone-age adaptations of modern technology — a pterodactyl’s beak is a record player; a brontosaurus is a construction crane — make life virtually indistinguishable from the 1950s.
Why anyone decided to make a live-action version of this unfunny show in the first place is anyone’s guess, except that Hollywood is so creatively bankrupt that any ancient TV show is fair game for a retread. Why a sequel was commissioned is clear: 1994’s The Flintstones made an appalling $350 million worldwide. Which just goes to show that people will watch anything.
So now we are presented with The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, for which I blame George Lucas, for igniting the current rage for the prequel. Viva Rock Vegas rewinds us to the time when Fred Flintstone (Mark Addy: Jack Frost, The Full Monty) and his pal Barney Rubble (Stephen Baldwin) first meet Wilma Slaghoople (Kristen Johnston: Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) and Betty O’Shale (Jane Krakowski: Go), the caveladies who will become their wives. In a boring and trite twist, Wilma turns out to be a poor little rich girl, heir to the Slaghoople fortune and intended for Chip Rockefeller (Thomas Gibson: Eyes Wide Shut), who, in a boring and trite twist, is handsome, wealthy, and — wait for it — a complete and utter jerk. So she runs away from the family mansion to live as a normal, poor person in Bedrock, where she moves in with Betty and falls in love with Fred, working stiff and lovable moron. Wilma’s mother, Pearl (a frightening Joan Collins), is not amused. Chip, the bastard, connives a plan to marry Wilma anyway. Wacky class comedy and prehistoric angst ensues.
Or tries to, anyway. Viva Rock Vegas is painful in a way I never imagined a film could be, and disturbing in a way that a movie intended for children should never, ever be. Screenwriters Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont have much to answer for in their obvious and unamusing script — this is the kind of movie in which, when Fred, whining that he’s lonely, says to Barney that “it’s not like something will drop out of the sky and change your life,” well, something drops out of the sky and changes his life.
The something is the blobby little alien known as The Great Gazoo (Alan Cumming: Eyes Wide Shut), who has come to Earth to study the mating habits of humans. He will (sort of) engineer the meeting between the guys and the girls, but before that he will assume that Fred and Barney are a mating pair, merely because they live together and Gazoo catches Barney lying atop Fred. Ick. I mean, not that there would be anything wrong with that, except that Viva Rock Vegas will make it wrong, with way too much sexual innuendo of all flavors standing in for jokes. Another embarrassing and unsettling scene finds Fred and Barney disguised as showgirls in a Rock Vegas casino, in full makeup and skimpy little dresses — it wants to evoke Some Like It Hot but in this cartoony context, it’s just weird and uncomfortable. By the time the drag Barney gets into a bitch-slap fight with the bizarrely effeminate Mick Jagged (also Cumming) — the lead singer of the Stones, natch — I was in desperate need of a shower. I’m sure the children in the audience were scarred for life.
Culpability also lies with director Brian Levant (who also made the depressing Jingle All the Way), for choosing a soundtrack of inappropriate current pop hits, for frequently jarring edits, and for allowing the design team to get away with cramming so much junk into the backgrounds that it’s impossible to distinguish much of anything at all, including the few genuinely clever jokes. (Blink and you miss the sideshow carnival attraction of “nature’s freak,” the “40-year-old man”… but then, the rest of the movie defeats the joke anyway, with Wilma’s mother trying to hide the fact that she’s close to twice that age.)
I suppose if flick filosophizing is my art, then sitting through agonizing clunkers like Viva Rock Vegas qualifies as my suffering for it. But I was afraid the three friends who accompanied me — and hence suffered for my art — were ready to bean me when it was over.
“I wanna go home!” a small child sitting behind me screamed through the second half of this waste of celluloid. Kid, so did I.