In the 1960s and early ‘70s Robert Downey, a low-budget iconoclast with little talent and even fewer inhibitions, had some success with such films as “Greaser’s Palace,” a parody of Jesus Christ in a frontier setting, and “Putney Swope,” which envisioned a black man becoming a power at a Madison Avenue ad agency.
Back then it was easier to draw laughter from sheer tastelessness, but where times have changed--there are no sacred cows or taboos left on the screen--Downey clearly hasn’t. His latest film, “Too Much Sun” (at the Westside Pavilion), is intended as hip social farce, but comes off as something that might have been made by a band of thumb-nosing high school students.
The story is about a gay son (Eric Idle) and a lesbian daughter (Andrea Martin) of a tycoon (the late Howard Duff) who are to be disinherited if neither one produces a child within a year of their father’s death.
Downey and his co-writers apparently mean to satirize greed and hypocrisy, using as their principal target an ambitious priest (Jim Haynie) who persuades the tycoon to change his will in hopes that he will become the heir by default. Instead, the film--in its delirious attempts at comic farce--dips into such ugly, and old-fashioned, stereotypes as gay men as pedophiles.
Not helping matters is that Downey has tried to shoehorn his slapdash, unconventional sensibility into a dizzyingly convoluted plot as conventional as that of a classic Georges Feydeau play. This requires the witty dialogue of Billy Wilder or the inspired gags of Blake Edwards to pull off, not the scattershot approach of Downey.
In short, the problem is not that Downey is trying to treat gays and lesbians with humor but that he is so uninspired in his attempt to generate laughter. (Yes, he can’t resist the near-impossible: an AIDS joke.) By default, “Too Much Sun” (rightly rated R) becomes a nasty business that lays waste to its large, gifted and game cast, which includes his son, Robert Downey Jr., and Ralph Macchio as two struggling real estate agents who get caught up in the plot machinations.