Sludgy family entertainment produced at the nadir of Walt Disney Productions’ live-action cycle, this convoluted comedy concerns a priest recruiting a group of housewives and neighborhood women to topple the crime organization that’s plaguing a once-wholesome town. Showcasing such wheezy comic elements as chase scenes, cross-dressing, and slapstick, the movie is made moderately palatable by the usual glossy production values associated with Disney flicks and by leading man Edward Herrmann’s affable performance. Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine kids being able to wrap their heads around bits like the scene in which a church-going woman masquerades as a streetwalker, just like it’s hard to imagine adults mustering the patience to endure myriad silly physical-comedy vignettes. Moreover, once the laborious story elements fall into place, the remainder of the picture is painfully predictable. The North Avenue Irregulars isn’t as insultingly stupid as the worst Disney live-action offerings, but neither is it as charming or energetic as the best such films—it’s just a random title in the middle of the heap.
Herrmann stars as Reverend Michael Hill, the new pastor at a Presbyterian church. After clashing with the church’s secretary, Anne (Susan Clark), Reverend Hill discovers that an aging parishioner foolishly entrusted all the money in the church’s restoration fund to her ne’er-do-well husband, who lost the cash at an illegal gambling parlor. Seeking redress, Reverend Hill discovers that the town’s criminals have purchased police protection, so the only way to fix his church’s problem is to help federal authorities entrap the criminals. None of the men in town is willing to help, so Reverend Hill turns to the ladies in his congregation, beginning with his nemesis-turned-love interest Anne. (Never mind the absurdity of a priest asking members of his flock to engage in dangerous undercover work.) Eventually, Reverend Hill assembles a motley crew portrayed by actresses including Virginia Capers, Barbara Harris, Cloris Leachman, and Karen Valentine. After several yawn-inducing comedy setpieces, notably a brawl inside the aforementioned illegal gambling parlor, Reverend Hill’s crusade climaxes with, of all things, a demolition derby during which the ladies use their station wagons against the criminals’ sedans. Oh, and there’s also a long scene built around the unfunny joke of Reverend Hill driving around town on a motorcycle while he isn’t wearing pants.
The North Avenue Irregulars has lots of events, and most of them are colorful. Moreover, Herrmann plays his role straight, giving the weak enterprise a small measure of dignity. However, the presence of second-rate supporting players including Ruth Buzzi and Alan Hale Jr. is a good indicator of how low viewers’ expectations should be set before plunging into The North Avenue Irregulars.
The North Avenue Irregulars: FUNKY