John Landis Lawrence Van Gelder - Essay

Lawrence Van Gelder

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Anyone interested in the condition of humor and wit in the United States stands likely to come away depressed from "The Kentucky Fried Movie."… "The Kentucky Fried Movie" is in the tradition of "The Groove Tube" and "Tunnelvision." The range of its satire and comedy, as displayed in 22 segments running from a minute or two up to 30 minutes, is fairly narrow.

Television is both an inspiration and a preoccupation, with commercials, news shows, early morning talk-news shows, talk shows and 50's-style courtroom dramas all serving as targets.

Movies come next. "Cleopatra Schwartz," dealing with the love of a black superwoman and a Hasidic rabbi, is this movie's comment on black exploitation films.

Disaster movies, soft-core pornographic movies and martial-arts films are also the focus of a mordancy that gives the impression—particularly in the 30-minute martial-arts segment—of being undercut by the maker's affection for the original genre. Sex records and charity appeals are also inspirations for efforts at humor in this 86-minute film, which seems at least twice as long….

Television is at once this movie's nourishment and onus. The caliber of television wit and humor has never been uniformly high, and comedy derived from it is likely to have difficulty surmounting such humble origins. It is little wonder, then, that "The Kentucky Fried Movie," being freed from the restraints of television, though not from its inherent defects, occasionally descends into juvenile tastelessness (a dignified woman using four-letter words; a board game built around the assassination of President Kennedy; a charity appeal involving a child's corpse)….

Lots of people will probably like "The Kentucky Fried Movie," just as they like Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's hamburgers. But popularity is still no reason for deifying mediocrity.

Lawrence Van Gelder, "'Kentucky Fried' a Yolky Film," in The New York Times (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 11, 1977, p. C14.