Rating -

Comedy (US); 1999; Rated PG-13; 92 Minutes

Molly Shannon: Mary Katherine Gallagher
Will Ferrell: Sky Corrigan/Jesus
Elaine Hendrix: Evian
Harland Williams: Slater
Mark McKinney: Father Ritley

Produced by Albert Botha, Susan Cavan, Erin Fraser, Steve Koren, Lorne Michaels and Robert K. Weiss; Directed by Bruce McCulloch; Screenwritten by Steven Wayne Koren

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Written by DAVID KEYES

When it comes to television, "Saturday Night Live" has a following the size of "Star Wars" and "Blade Runner." Mention the show's name, and one would likely reminisce in the days when Jon Belushi, Dan Akroyd and Bill Murray were part of the weekly program, lighting up the small screen in ways that no one could have foreseen. Now that those days are gone, and the big cast stars have moved to other projects, one has considerable difficulty appreciating the ongoing series. No longer are cast members and special guests charming our Saturday nights. The show has practically degenerated into self-parody, seldom amusing and almost never generating a laugh. If it is true, as a critic pointed out, that older shows linger on television simply for their reputation rather than for their new material, than this is a show that does nothing to disprove it.

If the series is pitiful, than the movies based on their popular skits are something else entirely. Many a moviegoer have suffered through a handful of pictures based on skits from the show, as they are the kinds of demented, unfunny comedies that you would expect to emerge from the mind of Jim Carrey. The fact that they lack plots to carry the duration of a 90-minute film only deadens the potential for humor.

But the endless set of movies continues on--from "The Blues Brothers," to "Wayne's World," to "Blues Brothers 2000," and others. There's usually a four or five-year gap in between each, but so is not the case with the newest one, which comes only one short year after that verbally inept "A Night At The Roxbury." "Superstar" was dreaded by practically every critic upon its arrival, and why shouldn't it have been?--Molly Shannon's "SNL" character, a geeky Catholic high school girl named Mary Katherine, is one of the most clichéd and uninvolving identities that has ever embellished a screen. If a film like "A Night At The Roxbury" could be one of the worst comedies of the decade simply because of its dialogue, then what could we possibly expect from "Superstar?"

Something interesting happened here: I laughed. I was amused. I wasn't exactly enthralled, but that's nothing to be surprised about when attending a film based on a 9-minute television skit. After nestling the story to its absolute limit, the movie explores its character in a way that no television episode can--with a touch of depth. There is some considerable laughter here, brought on merely by the performance of Molly Shannon, who takes an uninvolving character and virtually recreates it every step of the way. It doesn't take a genius to see that this may very well be the best step an actor of "SNL" has taken to ensure their movie's effectiveness. "Superstar" isn't always effective, but taken into account that this is another entry into a series of dead-zone, plotless comedies, it nourishes some of us.

Shannon's Catholic school girl only has one dream in the movie--to French kiss the captain of the football team (Will Ferrel). Her efforts to accomplish that task are also part of a plan to gain recognition and popularity. She gets involved in a school program for the talented, where annoying little quirks and disgusting habits erupt in front of her peers (she puts her hands under her arm pits, for example, and then smells her fingers when she gets nervous). Meanwhile, she is carrying a job at the local video store, and somehow missing the little clues an admiring fan of hers is passing on (he's more of a crush than a fan, actually). The football captain's girlfriend, a high-riding cheerleader, is also involved, ensuring that every step Mary Katherine takes is a stumble or trip.

Not surprisingly, the movie is constructed around a plot about as complex as boiling water. But there is a precise delivery of mild humor nonetheless, as some of the quirks presented by Shannon have a zany edge to them, even though they are meant to be stupid gags that should have just gone over our heads. Do we owe the thanks to the writers as much as we do Shannon? Not really. I repeat in most of my reviews of bad comedies that, if aware of the bad material they are caught up in, actors can sometimes enliven the idiocy and earn our respect. You've heard the expression, and now this is evidence.

Directed by Bruce McCulloch, "Superstar" is the kind of movie that the "Saturday Night Live" generation has wished for with every moronic effort--something that actually manages to be funny, even with a plot that supports less than eight minutes of footage. We shouldn't expect much of a film based on television comedy, since most are bad anyway, but "Superstar" is a surprise, both for rigid "SNL" fans and skeptics of skit-comedy-turned-movie. There are some laughs here so big and so surprising that it reopens a door of hope for the future of "Saturday Night Live" movies. Someday, these filmmakers might even incorporate an actual story into them.

© 1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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