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Hipster Holy Grail: Funland (1987)

The Hipster Holy Grail is a weekly experiment where I try to find and review a movie that's at least 10 years old and has less than 5,000 ratings on IMDb. I always hope to discover something amazing. Sometimes I don't.  This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

Despite what you may see on some corners of the Internet - which has variously described it as a horror movie and a dark comedy - Funland is a light, mindless comedy.  It's kinda like Office Space meets Police Academy, but set in an amusement park.  It never rises to the level of comedy that its premise has the potential for, but I kinda dug it, anyway.

My Rating: 3 / 5

The Plot Summary

The movie begins just before opening day at Funland, a cheesy amusement park run by Angus Perry (William Windom).  He's getting his staff in gear, including his second-in-command and heir apparent, Mike Spencer (Bruce Mahler), as well as a whole host of dummies who are working all the dead-end grunt jobs.

I'd like to tell you more about the dummies, but very few of them get enough screen time nor do they have enough presence to stand out.  But they're there. Most of them are introduced through a long recruitment scene where they are being interviewed by the executive staff's secretary, Shelly (Jan Hooks) and then have their pictures taken for their park IDs.  The only two who ever seem like they might be important are Hip Photographer Dude, who's sarcastic, and Uninterested Lady, who HP Dude wants to sleep with, except that she's uninterested.

And then there's Bruce Burger (David Lander), our protagonist. Bruce is a clown who serves as the mascot to a restaurant chain that funds Funland and sells "the pizza burger."  He's not even the original clown - actually, "Bruce Burger" is the name of the mascot, but Bruce has gone through some kind of mental breakdown and seems to think he's the actual one.  His shtick is that he carries around a pepperoni puppet and wears a pizza costume.

(By the way, the movie keeps referring to a "pizza burger" as if it's some disgusting invention that corporate America dreamed up to shove down the throats of an intellectually and culturally devoid public.  But I think it sounds amazing and I want to eat one.)

As of late, Bruce is the butt of a lot of jokes and a perpetual punchline.  Nobody respects him, and everything he does is unintentionally a double entendre for sex or dicks.  Despite his inability to hold a crowd or even entertain kids, Bruce has been kept on the payroll because of his years of loyal service.

Bruce has a lot of quirks.  For example, he perpetually voices his pepperoni puppet in character and treats it like it's alive regardless of whether or not he has an audience around.  He also refuses to be seen out of costume or out of makeup.  But because Lander plays him so affably and, frankly, pathetically, Bruce never comes across as creepy - he's always an underdog.

We eventually find out that Bruce is actually Neil Stickney, a longtime friend of Mr. Perry and one of Funland's original employees.  This is first referenced when he asks Mike to make sure his paychecks are made out to "Bruce Burger" instead of "Neil Stickney," which somehow gets overlooked a few paragraphs from now.  So, keep that in mind.

Anyway, some brief shenanigans ensue, and then Mr. Perry dies suddenly in a car accident.  Thinking he'll take over as the new boss, Mike sees a silver lining in that cloud.  But then his widowed wife reveals that she's sold the park to the DiMauros, a mob family, and things change for the worse.

The DiMauros keep Mike on as the functional director, but immediately instruct him to cut everyone's salary.  Next, they find out that they don't actually own the majority of shares for the park - Neil Stickney does.  They want to find Neil, but nobody knows who he is.  (See two paragraphs before.  If you're asking me why nobody could track down any of Bruce's previous paychecks and figure this out, I've got no answer.  Just pretend it's a big mystery.  Maybe the movie shouldn't have told you this so soon.)

More bad news for Bruce: the DiMauros don't like him, and they want to bring the original actor who played Bruce Burger to the park's opening to drive up interest in some new attractions.  Bruce/Neil is going to stay on for a little while, but his days appear to be numbered.

As another slap in the face, they order him to move out of his dressing room and relocate to a creepy abandoned wax figure museum.  Once there, Bruce starts to hallucinate that a wax figure of Humphrey Bogart is giving him advice on what to do.

Some more nonsense happens, and then Bruce's hallucinations escalate: now he's seeing his boss come back from the dead.  Ghost Perry reveals to Bruce that the DiMauros murdered him (big surprise) and that they have the rifle they used to kill him stashed in their office.

This reveal comes out right after Bruce also hallucinates that some cafeteria workers are rapping about fast food and putting on a big dance number for him.  I wouldn't mention it except that it's some late '80s comedy rap, and that stuff is always toxic enough to stand out in your memory.

Mike is starting to get fed up with the way the DiMauros are running things, but his frustration reaches a peak when they tell him to fire Bruce once and for all.  Mike reluctantly agrees, and this sends Bruce into a final hallucinatory rage in which he decides to kill the other Bruce and reclaim the park for himself.  Naturally, he's going to do this on the big opening day.

So, cut to opening day.  Bruce screws around with some of the park's machinery and computers to inconvenience everybody, then steals the DiMauros' gun and takes aim at Original Bruce.  The DiMauros realize what he's up to and one of them fights with him for control of the gun.  Bruce accidentally pulls the trigger and kills him, and the park is shut down while authorities descend on the scene.

In the aftermath, we find out that witnesses think the DiMauros were trying to kill Original Bruce, and that Bruce / Neil saved him.  No charges are pressed against Bruce, but the surviving DiMauros are arrested for Mr. Perry's murder and Original Bruce's attempted murder.  Bruce / Neil takes off his makeup for the first time and assumes control of the park as the majority shareholder, then gives Mike a pep talk and explains that they'll bounce back from all the recent tragedies.

A befuddled and disturbed Mike puts in his resignation and leaves.  On his way out of the executive office, he finds a girl who was separated from her parents and walks with her out to the security office.  The movie fades to black as they sing the Funland theme song.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

The first thing I want to mention is this: despite what you might expect from a movie about a homicidal clown with identity issues, this isn't that edgy of a comedy.  The plot description sounds way darker than it actually is - most of the jokes are upbeat and zany rather than caustic.  That's probably why they're not very funny.

It's going to be hard to justify why I kinda liked this movie since it is, at the end of the day, an unfunny comedy.  Usually that's the worst kind of disaster.  Is there anything more frustrating than sitting there stone-faced while something tries to make you laugh?

But what Funland lacks in solid jokes, it makes up for with energy, acting, and decent pacing.  The cast fully commits, which lends a believability the movie would otherwise not deserve.  There's nothing terribly clever about the promotional video that opens the film, for example, but the narrator's dry voice over makes it a stroke of smile-on-the-inside familiarity.

Some parts are really overdone and I'm having a hard time deciding whether I liked them or not.  Consider the nerdy young woman who eventually becomes a security officer (I have no idea what the actress or character's name was, so she'll just be Nerd Girl from here on).  There's a scene where a couple is locked out of their car in the parking lot and Nerd Girl comes up to help them.  As soon as she screams, "Step aside," and reaches for a gun at her belt, you know where the joke's going.  And sure enough, two seconds later she unloads a barrage of bullets at the door, then yanks it clean off, tips her hat at the couple, and says, "Have a nice day."

Is it overacted?  Definitely.  Is the cast charismatic?  Absolutely.  Does that make it funny?  I don't know.  But again... I'm smiling on the inside.

I can definitely say that I'm not a fan of the disconnected approach the movie takes.  Or at least, I'm not a fan of it when put in the same context as the more straight-forward narrative involving Bruce.

Compare it to something like Office Space, where the narrative is more of a B-plot and takes a backseat so the movie can try to capture a particular feeling of what it's like to work in a crappy office.  In Office Space, the disconnected, buncha-random-incidents approach is fun and works well because that movie's primary goal is to maintain a tone.

But Funland is only partly trying to maintain that tone, and whenever it goes back to Bruce's story (which is definitely the A-plot), it feels like they weren't sure how edgy to make it.  So the random diversions and cutaways to all the random dickheads who work at the park don't feel like part of the movie.  They just feel like interruptions.

It's a shame.  If Funland had flipped it the same way Office Space did and tried to poke fun at the minimum wage drudgery of a park while occasionally cutting back to the insane clown, then I have no doubt it would be better regarded to this day.  There's a ton of potential for relatable observational humor that ends up getting sidelined for the broadest of jokes.

But, hey, I'm smiling on the inside.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

Considering that the director, Michael Simpson, made two Sleepaway Camp sequels and that one of the co-writers, Bonnie Turner, later went on to create 3rd Rock From the Sun and That '70s Show, yet this movie only has 250 IMDb ratings and is out of print, it definitely falls into the "lesser known property from a beloved franchise contributor" groove.

On the other hand, since it's not actually a horror movie and doesn't get too terribly dark, it's pretty much just a mainstream comedy.  Simply being forgotten isn't typically enough to earn cred.

So I'm giving this one only 15 hipster cred out of a possible 100.

Where You Can Watch

It looks like Funland was fortunate enough to get a DVD release, so you always have that option if you want to go the legit route.  But I streamed it on Youtube.