Sunday, October 21, 2012

The French Can Have Him: "Which Way to the Front?" (1970)

Not since "8 Heads in a Duffel Bag," and the "Head of State" previews, have I laughed so little at something that the film makers thought would be hysterical.

Jerry Lewis is the richest man in the world. He is rejected as 4-F by the army, and decides to use his money to raise his own army- of about half a dozen. He then impersonates a Nazi commander in Italy, and eventually tries to kill Hitler. That is the description of the flimsy plot.

This film is as funny as a heart attack. This film makes "Hogan's Heroes" look like Shakespeare. If the money men of "The Producers" had really wanted to lose their cash, they should have shown this film. I cannot stress how bad this thing is.

Lewis' direction consists of two different cameras shooting the action from two different angles, then being edited together. This sitcom type of direction works on television, but here it is an obvious attempt to cheat the audience. He ends most of his scenes with a still shot, as if giving the viewer a chance to double over in stitches before going to the next tired set up. I spent most of the movie doubled over in abdominal agony, accompanied with severe flatulence, over this thing.

Lewis, the director and producer, sets the film in 1943, but makes no attempt to use period costumes or sets. Everyone wears the latest style and has the latest interior design...for 1970. The supporting cast is lost as Lewis goes off on his patented tangents, which last as long as major surgery and are just as painful to watch. When Lewis becomes the Nazi commander, he spends the last half of the film screaming at the top of his lungs in a performance so odious as to stink up any good will you try to bring in at the beginning.

The final embarrassing shot has Lewis and his cronies trying to put one over on the Japanese. They wear buck teeth, squint their eyes, and talk in a "funny" accent. It may be one of the most blatantly racist occurrences since the internment camps. I was slack jawed at what Lewis did through this whole thing, but that put me over the edge. Watch for Kaye Ballard's very tasteless scene where she tries to attempt suicide over and over again.

"Star Trek"'s George Takei has two small scenes, then wisely drops out of the picture. This has less laughs than Mel Brooks' last three films combined. There is nothing sadder than watching a formerly respected comedian screw up a project so horribly, you actually feel ashamed for them. Jim Carrey learned that with "The Majestic," but Jerry Lewis still shows up on television once in a while pulling the same unfunny shtick. I feel sorry for him.

"Which Way to the Front?" is cheap, unfunny, offensive, and stupid. I feel bad for everyone involved, and anyone who must endure this. I do not recommend it. (*) out of five stars.