The satiric idea behind “Crazy People” (citywide) deserves a better movie. Dudley Moore, looking a bit haggard and bored, pays Emory Leeson, an ad exec who, on deadline pressure, has a brainstorm.
Ad men lie for a living, he reasons, so why not cleanse the air and level with consumers? Emory’s resulting “truth in advertising” binge lands him in a loony bin, but, by accident, his brutally frank prototype ads are printed up and widely circulated. In the wake of their success, he’s hailed as a marketing genius.
The satire pretty much stops right there, which is a shame. In fact, things get progressively gooier. Ensconced in his pastoral sanitarium, Emory, along with a bevy of fellow oddballs, is enlisted by the ad agency’s heartless president (J.T. Walsh) to concoct new “truth” ads--as uncompensated occupational therapy. Away from the fast track, Emory learns to appreciate life’s simple pleasures, which include making the cozy acquaintance of a fellow patient played by the resplendent Daryl Hannah. Going crazy has its compensations.
Mitch Markowitz, who also wrote “Good Morning Vietnam,” has come up with some sharp jabs at Madison Avenue, but the film itself is an example of ad-promo hard-sell disguised as soft soap. Tony Bill’s direction lacks zip--the malingering maudlin moments periodically dissolve the screen into a glob of oleaginous mush. In the scenes with Emory and his cohorts, the filmmakers promote sentimentality as strenuously as the “heartfelt” commercials they’re satirizing.
Basically, “Crazy People” is yet another variation on the we’re-all-sane-in-here-they’re-all-crazy-out-there game plan of, say, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” or, more recently, “The Dream Team.” There’s something emotionally satisfying in this sort of set-up no matter how many times it’s played out--the role reversal confirms a widespread fantasy that we’re saner than the nuts running the show--but it’s also a rigged scenario. It coddles the mentally ill by turning them into saintly truth-tellers.
Maybe this is why the crazy people in “Crazy People” (rated R for strong language) are remarkably undifferentiated; they sport their eccentricities, but since they’re basically in the movie for a quick heart tug and a laugh, they never have a chance to become full-fledged characters. One oldster thinks he’s a TV sitcom writer, another obsesses about Saabs, a black man thinks he’s a macho Latino, and so on. These characters are all set-up and punch-line.
Only Dick Paymer’s George, a lost soul who limits his conversations pretty much to the word hello , registers with any real poignancy. Still, I could easily have lived without the end-credit sing-along of George’s “The Hello Song.” Also, when he’s finally airlifted to sanity, anyone wanna guess what word George blurts out to the big bad doctors?
A number of actual corporate logos are used in the film, and I suppose one should be grateful that, for a change, the logos aren’t employed as the usual product plugs that routinely garnish our movies. (The ad line for the United Airlines spot says: “Most of our passengers get there alive.”) But the “daring” of this approach doesn’t jibe with the film’s overall gloppiness. And the film doesn’t advance its satire by implying that “truth” advertising may actually be another kind of con, in the same manner as the current “reality” TV. The filmmakers’ attitudes are hopelessly confused, but the confusion is purest Hollywood, where sincerity and the hard-sell are as twinned as Tweedledee and Tweedledum.
We’re supposed to applaud Emory and his gang for leveling with consumers and exposing the hypocrisy of advertising. But the aims of their own ad campaigns are just as mercenary. After all, their ads exist to sell merchandise too. The sequences where the buying public are shown clamoring to buy the products are far more cynical than the moviemakers seem to realize. We’re meant to be happy for the new-found admen, those happy-go-lucky band of screwloose innocents, but the real message seems to be that, in today’s media-wise culture, the best way to put one over on the buying public is to be crazy--like a fox.
A Paramount Pictures release. Executive producer Robert K. Weiss. Producer Tom Barad. Director Tony Bill. Screenplay Mitch Markowitz. Cinematography Victor J. Kemper. Music Cliff Eidelman. Production design John J. Lloyd. Costumes Mary E. Vogt. Film editor Mia Goldman. With Dudley Moore, Daryl Hannah, Paul Reiser, Mercedes Ruehl, J.T. Walsh.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
MPAA-rated: R (no one under 17 admitted without accompanying parent or adult guardian.)