drop dead fred

Drop Dead Fred marks the second film review I have created, and also Rik Mayall’s first feature length film. Directed by Ate De Jong, the film released in 1991. Ironically, two of the cast members of this film (Mayall and Fisher) have taken the first two words of the films title way too literally. Both have passed on to the big dressing room in the sky, Mayall in 2014 and Fisher in 2016. Still, horrible jokes aside, was Mayall’s first foray into the US Film Market a success? Or was it a Drop Dead Failure?

Similar to my first review in every way, we need to look at the four most important aspects of a film, those four subjects being:

Plot.
Acting.
Writing.
Music.

Those are the four items that truly make or break a film. Regardless of the genre, running time or critical rating, a movie needs to pass all four to be truly remarkable in any way.

Plot

Rik Mayall stars as Fred, the imaginary friend of Phoebe Cates’ character. Image courtesy of New Line Cinema.

Most nineties comedies have a traditional route for their plot. For Drop Dead Fred it goes for the “marriage ending” plot line, but with a rather irregular, British twist. By British twist I mean literal British twist in the form of comedian Rik Mayall. Mayall plays Fred, the imaginary friend of Elizabeth. He constantly meddles in her life, both past and present.

With Elizabeth now separated from her husband, fired from her job and living with her mother, Drop Dead Fred appears once more. It’s evident from this angle that Fred shows up in times of need and this idea is supported throughout the film as a whole. Fred won’t and can’t go away until Elizabeth is happy, so in that regard, Fred is stuck with her until she wins back her husband, Charles. Or so it seems anyways.

The majority of the plot left so many holes you’d be forgiven in mistaking it for a bomb site. Why does Elizabeth leave her bag in the car when she knows she’ll need more money for the phone? Can Fred only bee seen by Elizabeth or others as well? Near to the end of the film another little girl unrelated to Elizabeth begins to converse with Fred. So what does that mean? It makes no sense! On top of that, can Fred be seen by others? I mean, he can interact with others. He leaves a note for Elizabeth, who reads it with her mother, with the letter claiming to be from Charles. So did Elizabeth write the letter? Or did Fred. I know the film wasn’t going for the mental instability angle, but there’s certainly a lot to be answered.

Plot holes are great

Furthermore, why does Elizabeth even lose her job, considering it’s more than likely understandable that she had her car and bag stolen. Even the worst of employers would understand being late in those circumstances.

Mikey is a childhood friend of Elizabeth there solely for the reason of plot progression. How convenient that he is divorced also, and he also has a small child. How utterly convenient to the story progression of this film.

Acting

Visual comedy is certainly not this films forte, but at least it tries. Image courtesy of New Line Cinema.

Rik Mayall is arguably the main star, considering he plays the title character of Drop Dead Fred. Mayall is a personal icon of mine, I’ve got a lot of respect for a lot of his work. The New Statesman, Bottom and Guest House Paradiso are only the tip of the iceberg for his amazing career. Regardless of his past, Mayall was a welcoming sight in this film.

It gave that relatively British feel to it all and because I’m a fan of his work, I enjoyed seeing him within this film. He wasn’t in his forte here, but you can definitely tell that the field he’s working in for Drop Dead Fred is roughly the same as the experience of his former works. It helps also that I liked the look of Fred. The green suit was quirky and definitely spoke levels of an imaginary friend that would be specific to one person.

However, although I’m a huge fan of Mayall and his work, his acting as Fred began to annoy me at times. This may be down to bad writing, but the actual character of Drop Dead Fred became grating at times. Maybe it was down to Mayall’s overacting, which was on Nic’ Cage levels in this film. Whatever the case, it created for a very annoying lead. It annoyed me to a different level though, Mayall plays similar characters so well and I’m willing to defend Mayall and just put it down to bad writing because of that.

Mayall and slapstick go hand in hand

Slapstick is something Mayall does so brilliantly in his work, with Bottom being arguably his most famed slapstick moments. They try to incorporate slapstick into this film, and boy, do they get it so very, very wrong. One scene in the film shows Fred getting his head stuck in the fridge door, and when he pulls his head out, it’s completely flat. They miss the punchline, the joke looks sloppy and it looks like something out of a horror more than a comedy.

There’s a great contrast between the actual mother of Elizabeth and the character Carrie Fisher plays. Elizabeth sees Fisher’s character (who’s name escapes me) as a motherly role model figure and this works rather well. The early scenes with Fisher show her as some form of mental guru, there to aid Elizabeth through the more troubling times of her life, and that’s evident from the rest of the film.

Whoever played the other imaginary characters were quite genuinely the worst things ever. Although only in one scene it genuinely plummeted the film into the depths of terrible. They couldn’t act, and for the brief few minutes they were on camera I felt drained. The film on a whole made me realise nobody actually stood out as a good actor. Not Mayall, not Fisher, nobody managed to come close to presenting themselves as someone who could act.

Writing

Mayall and Cates’ on screen chemistry is definitely apparent, but the writing can’t hold this. Image courtesy of New Line Cinema.

I’ll give credit where credit is due however, the opening scene with the bedtime story did get a laugh out of me. It was mainly because of the way the child actor delivered the line, not the reaction of the mother. Honestly, I think it’s just a British thing as well. Random and sudden bursts of vulgar language is sort of our forte, it’d done a lot in Mayall’s work from after this film, primarily Bottom. But regardless of that, we need to focus on the fact that it’s an American audience. Americans have a very different sense of humour to the British, but that’s not the point. Mayall making his break into the American market meant conforming to an American sense of humour and it really doesn’t work for him.

Quickly following the opening scene was something I didn’t expect. Well, by “what I didn’t expect” I mean, an overly long credit sequence done in a child’s drawing. I get this is supposed to be quirky, but along with the music and runtime it just became ineffective and annoying. We’ll talk about the music later, but for now let’s focus on the actual opening itself. It may not be integral to the film itself, but a big part of the run time is just the opening credits. They were trying their best to be comical but it just didn’t stick.

Husbandry was done well

The husband character was written rather well and this is important because he is the focal plot point for the film. An uncaring man that we’ve seen in traditionally romantic films before is present, and that’s fine. Although, this could be seen as a pretty stereotypical plot point. There are countless films out there that have the “asshole husband” as the main plot point. The character doesn’t have any notable dialogue, but, now that I think about it, nobody did. Writing wise, the film is lukewarm at best. No dialogue at all really stood out, not even from Mayall or Fisher who are normally brilliant actors.

Because the films story arc is as flimsy as a bridge made out of silly string, there are numerous flashback sequences, some with more relevance than others. A piece from the trailer uses a flashback to where Elizabeth and Fred decide to ruin a room with Cornflakes. In the movie, I have no clue what contextual relevance this has. There literally isn’t any. Furthermore, as a comedy, I was expecting to laugh countless times. The best comedies manage that. Hot Fuzz, Airplane and even Mayall’s work in Guest House Paradiso made me laugh out loud on numerous occasions. Drop Dead Fred gave me maybe one or two chuckles at best.

Music

The music definitely fit in with the childish nature of the film, I’ll give it that. But it also fit in with the terrible aspects of the film too. The music eventually began to bore and it was more of an annoyance to hear a musical cue rather than be overjoyed.

Conclusion

When people ask me about Drop Dead Fred…sorry, I’ll start again.

If people ask me about Drop Dead Fred, I’d try and defend it. Not because it’s good, but because of Rik Mayall. In an interview, Mayall stated the film was “too sentimental for Britain and too over the top for Americans.” Mayall is best known for this film in the States, and for some reason, people are unwilling to give his other work a second chance. The Young Ones, Bottom, The New Statesman, Filthy, Rich and Catlfap, Guest House Paradiso, The Comic Strip Presents, Man Down, Kevin Turvey, Believe Nothing, Blackadder, Watership Down… The list goes on of successful Mayall comedy ventures. Watch one of those instead.

Overall, the film is clumsy, poorly paced and dreadfully written. It leaves more questions than answers and above all, it just isn’t funny. By the time the film was reaching the end it was becoming painful to watch. But, you need an answer to whether or not you should watch this. Not merely a score, but something you can take from this episode and truly think about.

Is it worth watching Drop Dead Fred?

No.

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Drop Dead Fred
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Ewan Gleadow
I've been writing for various different places for roughly four or five years now. Currently focusing my writing on film reviews, politics and occasional game reviews. Hopefully you enjoy my work, be sure to contact me if you have any criticisms or praise.

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