The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)

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The Kentucky Fried Movie
Dir. John Landis
Premiered August 10, 1977

Watching The Kentucky Fried Movie is one of the strangest viewing experiences I’ve ever had. Like many of the films reviewed in this series, it’s regarded as a classic, and I found it to be overrated. Not wholly overrated, but overrated enough. But while the likes of Stroszek or Iphigenia may lay claim to some aesthetic truth, technical achievement, or spark of creative genius, The Kentucky Fried Movie aims merely to make as many jokes as possible, which somehow makes me feel guiltier than usual for not falling in love with it.

The film is a compendium of sketches ranging in length from one to thirty minutes; there’s no particular order to them– the longest and best, a kung fu parody called “A Fistful of Yen,” is right in the middle– and are extremely hit-and-miss. Sometimes they suggest the great work to come from its creators, the writing team of Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker and director John Landis, but just as often they resemble the campfire skits of a mediocre Boy Scout troop.

Both the film’s strengths and weaknesses originate with its intimate connection to the time in which it was made. If topical humor can transcend its context, it’s for the ages: see a trailer for a fake blaxploitation movie called Cleopatra Schwartz, or a ridiculous play on the type of “instructional films” that were shown in theaters before the legalization of pornography. Horribly dated are a parody of a then-current beer commercial featuring the then-apparent plague of Hare Krishnas, or an embarrassingly obvious plagiarism of Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin’s famous “Point/Counterpoint” sketch on Saturday Night Live. Perhaps a younger person might enjoy the overarching absurdity, but The Kentucky Fried Movie is extremely hit-and-miss.

How Did It Do?
The Kentucky Fried Movie earned $7.1 million against a $650,000 budget, a modest success that barely hints at the impact it had, not only as a cult phenomenon within Hollywood itself and among comedy nerds, but as a jumping-off point for the 1980s-defining careers of Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker and John Landis.

Critical acclaim for the movie was widespread at the time, but even with an RT score of 80%, its star has somewhat faded, with many critics today calling the film out on its scattershot approach.

Next Time: That Obscure Object of Desire

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