By far the funniest and most polished of the various doofus-humor anthology films that hit theaters after Saturday Night Live’s success transformed so-called “college humor” into mainstream entertainment, The Kentucky Fried Movie was a game-changer for its director, John Landis, and its writers, the zany team of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker. After this picture made a splash, Landis went on to helm the blockbuster Animal House (1978), while the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team perfected their style of comic insanity with Airplane! (1980). Yet while both of those pictures feature traditional start-to-finish narratives, The Kentucky Fried Movie operates in the Saturday Night Live mode by presenting more than 20 different sketches, some of which are less than a minute long, and one of which runs more than 30 minutes. Some bits are funnier than others, of course, but everything in The Kentucky Fried Movie is executed with the utmost professionalism; Landis’ sleek camerawork and meticulous pacing has the effect of corralling the movie’s slapdash gags into a coherent format.
Obviously, none of this should give the impression that The Kentucky Fried Movie represents an exercise in good taste. Quite to the contrary, the movie is gleefully crude, especially in the realm of sex jokes, of which there are many. For instance, one sketch that I’m ashamed to say kept me chuckling for years after I first saw the picture (and still makes me laugh now) is the outrageously vulgar two-minute trailer for a nonexistent sexploitation movie called Catholic High School Girls in Trouble, which hits every note of Roger Corman-style hucksterism perfectly. There are other fake trailers, as well as ersatz news broadcasts, faux commercials, and straight-up comedy bits that feel like stand-alone short films. Sometimes, characters from one sequence pop up in an unrelated sequence, so everything feels like it’s happening in the same milieu.
The centerpiece of The Kentucky Fried Movie is A Fistful of Yen, a slick spoof of the iconic Bruce Lee flick Enter the Dragon (1973). A Fistful of Yen contains some of The Kentucky Fried Movie’s silliest gags—think of this extended vignette as a dry run for the genre send-ups Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker made in the ’80s, and you’ve got the right idea. (Sample gag: The bad guy has a disloyal underling beheaded, then shouts, “Now take him to be tortured!”) During this sequence, comic actor Evan Kim gives a simultaneously charming and ridiculous performance as the Bruce Lee-styled lead character, delivering all of his lines with an absurdly racist accent; the wide-eyed shamelessness of his acting is winning, and he does a credible job of mimicking Lee’s fierce athleticism.
A few familiar names pop up in cameos during The Kentucky Fried Movie, including Bill Bixby, Henry Gibson, and Donald Sutherland, but utility players appearing in multiple roles—including David Zucker—carry most of the load. As with most examples of “college humor,” The Kentucky Fried Movie isn’t for everyone, because it’s a guy movie through and through. In other words, it’s so dumb and leering you may feel embarrassed laughing at some of the jokes. However, when seen in the right frame of mind, The Kentucky Fried Movie provides 83 minutes of jubilantly juvenile jocularity.
The Kentucky Fried Movie: GROOVY