What in the world went wrong with "Rented Lips?" (AMC Century 14.) Certainly no movie written by and starring Martin Mull and directed by Robert Downey should be this bad. It's a joke, right?
No such luck. This film about inept movie makers botching up the movies they're making is so bollixed up itself--full of jokes that misfire, gags that drag and a plot that leaks out like methane gas--that you wonder whether the story behind the film is funnier than what we're watching.
It actually begins well. Mull plays harried but idealistic cineaste Archie Powell, a shaggy documentary film maker who's won awards for his TV films such as the prestigious "Hello, Mr. Sperm Whale."
Mull gives this character a perfect look: unkempt in a suit, frizzy-haired, puffy-cheeked and pallid. This movie buff wallflower suddenly gets the opportunity of a lifetime: a fiction feature, whose director died during the shooting.
Unfortunately, the big break proves to be a Nazi porno epic on location at a local motel, with a cast of sleazeballs in leather and slack-eyed ladies in garter belts, and the skittish Archie is a 40-year-old virgin, living with his mother.
Talked into completing this "Whip Me, Adolph!" epic by his more pragmatic partner, cameraman Charlie Slater (the late Dick Shawn--who gives the movie's best performance), Archie suddenly gets the brainstorm of shooting two films at once: the porno and his dream project, an authentic feature on Indian farmers.
Up to this point, "Rented Lips" is funny--and, if Mull and Downey had stuck with the premise, they might have had an off-color gem.
But the film gets on a greased slide to oblivion when the troupe hits the farm. No socially conscious film maker would have wanted to make the garish, campy musical Archie winds up shooting. This is somebody's sloppy grab from Mel Brooks' "The Producers."
The Van Dyke Parks songs are all wrong too: not good enough to be bad, and not bad enough to be good. And dragging in Kenneth Mars--"The Producer's" Nazi playwright--as a Falwell-Swaggart televangelist type who makes porno on the side, is a venial sin, especially when we keep seeing Mars in his office, cavorting with the same bikinied blondes by an inflatable pool.
"Rented Lips" (MPAA-rated R for nudity and language) is pretty awful. "Hello, Mr. Sperm Whale" would probably make for a better evening.
A Cineworld release of a Vista Organization presentation. Producer Mort Engelberg. Director Robert Downey. Executive producer Martin Mull. Script Mull. Camera Robert D. Yeoman. Music Van Dyke Parks. Editor Christopher Greenbury. With Martin Mull, Jennifer Tilly, Dick Shawn, Robert Downey Jr., Kenneth Mars, Shelley Berman, Edy Williams.
Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes.
MPAA rating: R (under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian).