Back to the Kim Newman Archive | Main EOFFTV page for this title
Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996)
The deserts of cinema are littered with the bones of comedians who were huge on television but stiffed on their first shot at big screen stardom: Morecambe and Wise (The Magnificent Two), and Rowan and Martin (The Maltese Bippy) and Cannon and Ball (The Boys in Blue) didn't make it, and neither did Rik Mayall (Drop Dead Fred), Danny La Rue (Our Miss Fred), Roseanne (She Devil), Kenny Everett (Bloodbath at the House of Death), Jasper Carrot (Jane and the Lost City) and Dave Allen (Squeeze a Flower). With that track record, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer would do well to stay away from the movies for a while.
The latest sit-com escapees are the snickering cartoon teenagers, Beavis (the yellow-haired one with the crocodile jaw) and Butt-Head (the brown-haired one with the braces), who have been sneering at stupid rock videos on MTV since animator Mike Judge (who does both the voices) invented them. Beavis and Butt-Head Do America opens with the duo bereft when their television set is stolen, which also frees them from the confines of their TV show and sends them off across the country on an odyssey considerably less innocent than Pee-Wee Herman's quest to get back his lost bicycle.
The trouble with many TV-to-film transfers is that jokes that work pretty well at 25 minutes become worn out at an hour and a half, and B+BH - which depends on the steady drip-drip-drip of infantile repetition - goes well beyond amusing and into excruciating as it takes jokes that were almost funny the first time round (a running gag about 'deep-cavity searches') and repeats them until you want to kill the projectionist. Actually, it's a mistake to think of the duo's schtick as jokes, since their catch-phrases ('huh-huh-huh' and 'sucks!') are more like neurotic tics than gags. The nearest you get to snappy patter are declarations like 'you will all worship my bunghole!'.
To drag the film out to feature length, this goes to the extreme lengths of having an actual plot, about a stolen virus weapon, and a premise, whereby a low-life thug mistakes Beavis and Butt-Head for professional assassins and hires them to go to Las Vegas and 'do' his cheating wife, which excites the kids because they think they are being paid to have sex with the woman rather than knock her off. It is an indication of the strange cachet that attaches to the project that the thug and the femme fatale are voiced uncredited by Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, who at least provide some relief from Judge's endless talking-with-himself on the soundtrack.
At first, there is some grudging enjoyment to be had from the sheer stupidity. The colourful credit scene, with a blaring theme tune, is a perfect pastiche of early 1970s trash television, with the heroes posing in hideous clothes like Starsky and Hutch (Paul-Michael Glaser and David Soul didn't make it as big screen stars either). But while Jim Carrey or Eddie Murphy can get you to warm up to their antics against your will, Beavis and Butt-Head take the opposite tack, promising to be amusing at first, but getting progressively on your nerves.
There are funny secondary characters, like the mobile home-driving neighbour who represents all the suburban values B&BH despise and the hippie schoolteacher (who performs a hideous folk song, 'Fly! Lesbian Seagull') who also gives them something to rebel against. But these come from the television show, which remains locked into its tiny world. When the film goes to Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam (for a predictable disaster) and Washington DC (where Butt-Head comes on to Chelsea Clinton) and hauls in Federal Agents - lead by a hardcase voiced by Robert Stack of The Untouchables (who never transferred his television stardom to the movies either) - and nuns to provide the kids with yet more foils.
One of the problems of film criticism is that you're forced to sit down and think about movies that are supposed to be mindless. It's hard to work up much contempt for the deadbrain dullness that Beavis and Butt-Head embody, especially since it seems to be a feeble xerox of the more pointed moronism of MAD Magazine's Alfred E. Neuman, not to mention a lot less appealing at this length than the antics of Wayne and Garth or Bill and Ted. Hell, compared with Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, you'll feel nostalgic for A Man Called Flintstone or the Top Cat movie they never made.
Then again, a lot of people laughed at the screening I was at. Maybe
it's an age thing. Or a brain-cell thing. To really appreciate Beavis
and Butt-Head, you have to be a lot stupider or a lot smarter than most
human beings are.
First Published In: The Hampstead and Highgate Express (issue unknown)
All text on this page © Kim Newman