Douglas Kenney (Will Forte) and Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson) meet at Harvard University, become best friends, and work together on the Harvard Lampoon – the campus paper where they provide comedy articles and even write a book together that spoofs “Lord of the Rings”. When it’s time graduate and Kenney’s parents (Annette O’Toole and Harry Groener) pressure him about his future plans, he decides to keep writing comedy by starting a comedic magazine with Beard titled “National Lampoon”.
The guys form the magazine and it becomes a national sensation that leads to radio shows, live performances, albums, books, and movies. All the while, Douglas Kenney folds under the pressure and turns to the simple comforts of cocaine and cheating on his wife on a constant manic-depressive roller coaster chronicling how some of the highest-grossing comedies of all time (Animal House, Caddyshack) came into being and what became of the man who wrote them.
A Futile And Stupid Gesture is packed with both actors you know you’ve seen before but whose names you probably can’t remember (Will Forte, Domhnall Gleeson, Annette O’Toole, Garry Groener, Emmy Rossum, Seth Green, Natasha Lyonne, Thomas Lennon, Matt Lucas) and a bunch of actors you’ve probably never seen before playing famous actors (Joel McHale as Chevy Chase, Jon Daly as Bill Murray, Brian Huskey as John Landis, John Gemberling as John Belushi, Erv Dahl as Rodney Dangerfield, Jack Andrew Cook as Dan Aykroyd).
This provides a very odd sensation of always trying to figure out a) who the people are that you’ve seen before and b) who these newbies are supposed to be portraying. It was a constant game of “guess who” that was sort of distracting from the film.
Will Forte felt like he was simply playing another iteration of Phil Tandy Miller, the role he plays on the FOX series The Last Man On Earth. Both roles had similar personalities and I was constantly waiting for him to give Tandy’s catchphrase of “Boom” after every joke. He did a fairly decent job of portraying the dramatic moments of the film, which surprised me, but his comic delivery being just like his TV series shows how single-note he really is. It was good enough for this Netflix film, but nothing new or exciting from him in terms of range.
I have a confession to make that will likely get me relegated to the purgatory of movie reviewers: I’ve never actually seen Animal House OR Caddyshack! I know, I know. But to be honest, seeing this movie I’m not even sure if I’d even liked either of them. The comedy in this (which even showcases some of those films) is really funny at times, and really lame at others. This seems to be the case with the National Lampoon movies I actually have seen, where in the end I feel almost a little filthy for having laughed at what I laughed at, and awkward by the stuff I didn’t. In other words, I’m probably not National Lampoon’s chosen demographic, which means I’m probably not the preferred viewer of A Futile And Stupid Gesture, either.
Much like the Lampoon films I have seen, this movie fluctuated between funny and lame, and overall felt like pretty average and forgettable. In other words, a comedy similar to those Netflix has been putting out recently like The Polka King with Jack Black and a plethora of forgettable comedies starring Adam Sandler. Netflix is doing a great job with their original TV content, and even their darker original movies range from good to great. But right now, their comedy listings are severely lacking.
If you’re a fan of National Lampoon and want to see how the company got its start, you’ll be interested in seeing A Futile And Stupid Gesture. Otherwise, just go in with low expectations and you’ll laugh enough to make the 101-minute running time endurable, but most likely forget what made you chuckle at before long.