Everyone has their favorite Morty Fineman film. When you write and direct 427 features, there's a lot to choose from.
Who can forget "Twelve Angry Men and a Baby," not to mention "Chicks With Hicks," "Cage Full of Waitresses," "King Kong Christmas" and the one-of-a-kind "Christ for the Defense," in which Jesus returns to Earth and short-circuits personal injury lawsuits by healing victims right in the courtroom? Now that's entertainment.
If Fineman didn't exist, someone would have to invent him, and that's just what co-writers Mike Wilkins & Stephen Kessler have done in "The Independent," a wacky movie-business mockumentary directed by Kessler that spoofs everything in sight. Unashamedly silly, inevitably erratic, it has so much fun sending up the world of exploitation filmmaking that even the most serious film student won't be able to suppress a laugh or two. Maybe even more. Jerry Stiller stars as the redoubtable Mr. Fineman, deservedly a legend in his own time according to the many real movie people like Roger Corman (clearly a model) and Ron Howard the film interviews. Who knew, for instance, that it was Fineman who pioneered the concept of using Roman numerals in sequels in his classic "World War III II"? "Morty would try something," Peter Bogdanovich says, "and two years later someone would win an Oscar for it."
Fineman is introduced on the set of his newest film, "Ms. Kevorkian," a passionate defense of a patient's right to die that features the formidable Julie Strain in the title role as a machine gun-toting angel of mercy wearing a revealing gold lame uniform and matching cap.
Wanting to craft a statement about social issues has always been a Fineman trait. "If the film doesn't speak the truth, don't make it," is one of his (very) many mottos. That was the impulse behind two Fineman classics, the female motorcycle "Eco Angels" ("these five bad mothers look out for Mother Earth") and "Brothers Divided," about feuding Siamese twins, one a peacenik, the other a gung-ho patriot, who learn a thing or two when they're drafted and see joint action in war-torn Vietnam. Talk about pathos. Both of those films are visible in "The Independent" in riotous coming-attractions form, a configuration at which the co-writers, both of whom have National Lampoon in their backgrounds, are especially deft.
Among the other Fineman trailers are his only studio film, "Whale of a Cop," in which meddling executives changed the lead character from a whale to a water-spouting whale-like cop (Ben Stiller does the honors), and the film that understandably broke Fineman financially, "The Whole Story of America."
Even ahead-of-their-time filmmakers, maybe especially ahead-of-their-time filmmakers, have financial troubles, and Fineman is no exception. Despite the loyalty of Ivan (Max Perlich), his longtime No. 2, and the grudging assistance of his ambivalent daughter Paloma (Janeane Garofalo), the only source of funding on the horizon is an offer for the vast Fineman film library from a group that wants to pay for them by the pound.
Though he's bankrupt, Fineman is always thinking of his next film, which in this case is the ripped-from-the-headlines story of William Henry Ellis (Larry Hankin), the convicted serial killer of 73 who wants his story turned into a musical. And Fineman's trying to get a film festival, any film festival, to fete him with a career retrospective. The only town interested is tiny Chapparal, Nev., but the High Desert Film Festival comes with some particular strings attached.
The veteran Stiller is well cast as Fineman, and the film is fortunate in having the innately comic Perlich and Garofalo in supporting roles. Aside from Strain, the most amusing celebrity casting has former adult star Ginger Lynn Allen as the mayor of Chapparal, and John Lydon, a.k.a Johnny Rotten, as Baruce (not Bruce), the high-tone festival artistic director.
"The Independent's" best asset, however, is its love of the low-budget, exploitation world it satirizes. Writers Wilkins and Kessler in fact came up with titles for all 427 of Fineman's pictures.
These share screen space with the film's final credits, titles like "Barnyard of Hate," "Rock 'n' Roll Golem" and "Tattoo II: Pierced by an Angel" scrolling across the screen in a stately procession. They're definitely worth waiting for.
MPAA rating: R for language, some violence and sexuality. Times guidelines: profanity and brief nudity.
Jerry Stiller...Morty Fineman
Janeane Garofalo...Paloma Fineman
Released by Arrow. Director Stephen Kessler. Producer Mike Wilkins. Executive producer Jerry Weintraub. Screenplay Mike Wilkins & Stephen Kessler. Cinematographer Amir Hamed. Editor Chris Franklin. Production design Russell Christian. Art director Dan Rucinski. Set decorator Halina Siwolop. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.
In limited releaseCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times