Monday, May 23, 2011

Pizza Man (1991)

Funny and political, but nearly unbearably silly, this ridiculous faux-noir centers on a 30-ish pizza man (go figure) as he warily ventures deep into East Hollywood to deliver (*gasp*) a large anchovy and sausage pizza. The pizza man, Elmo, is played by Bill Maher in, from what I gather, what was his only real leading man gig, and much of the humor follows suit: along his journey, he encounters politicos such as Dan Quayle, Ronald Reagan, and, in the least dated touch, "Donnie," the lost, insecure former pizza boy. The whole story is relayed through a sort of neo-noir guise, with Maher delivering a consistent deadpan voiceover relating his pizza-oriented agenda like a cop walking his beat, complete with dispatch calls and a no-nonsense, "just the facts" demeanor. This element masks the true nature of the film's script, which is a then-contemporary political satire, and due to writer/director J.F. Lawton's clear knowledge of noir archetypes and cliches, it keeps the film chugging along right past its stuck-in-the-early-'90s satirical targets, such as Quayle's momma's boy idiocy and presidential candidate Michael Dukakis's shoddy speaking skills. Lawton shoots L.A. through Elmo's winshield like its Taxi Driver, and keeps the film simultaneously rooted in both light-and-shadow driven noir and neon-soaked L.A. nightlife imagery. The one aspect Lawton cannot cover up through sheer style is his budget; the shabby sets are reused, action scenes are ugly and hobbled together, and the supporting cast is filled to the brim with nobody celebrity impersonators, along with a game, but ultimately underwhelming femme fatale by ways of Annabelle Gurwitch. Bill Maher's acerbic wit (and particular political sensibilities) makes him a refreshing, ideally detached noir lead, and, while it is obvious why he didn't parlay this into a serious career as a movie star (see his oft-referenced and disastrous attempt at injecting irony into a nonsensical dance sequence), him and the material have the same bizarre, specific kismit that Dennis Miller was able to harness in the similarly noir-tinged Tales from the Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood. The infectious energy and cleverness Maher and Lawton invested in this film gives it a lot of momentum and many memorable lines and scenarios; its lack of big-budget professionalism takes turns working for and against the production, making it a relatively exclusive, yet fairly rewarding affair for its specific audience (for all those interested: this bad boy's impossible to find, save for on youtube).

Recommended for fans of Bill Maher, or the politically savvy with a particularly clear memory of the general goings-on circa 1991. This is a less fantastic, yet more pointed effort than Lawton and Maher's previous team-up, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death; it wrings more mileage out of its noir setup than the latter's 50's B-movie trappings, yet fails to parade Shannon Tweed and Adrienne Barbeau around in jungle bikinis (a heinous crime if ever there was one).

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