Among the many impressive accomplishments in comedienne Joan Rivers’ long and multifaceted career, she was one of the few women to direct a Hollywood feature in the ’70s. Unfortunately, the significance of this professional milestone is largely symbolic, because Rabbit Test is an embarrassingly bad movie that flopped during its original release and has aged poorly. Starring Billy Crystal in his first big-screen starring role, the movie is about the world’s first pregnant man. Yet the picture, which Rivers also cowrote, never offers any explanation for how the lead character defies human physiology. In fact, there isn’t much of a storyline at all, because Rabbit Test mostly comprises sketches filled with rude jokes at the expense of every ethnic group imaginable.
In the film’s nadir, Lionel Carpenter (Crystal) becomes a worldwide celebrity invited to meet various heads of state, so he ends up in the hut of an African chieftain. Men from the tribe entertain their illustrious visitor by performing an R&B version of “Frére Jacques” while wearing grass skirts—as other tribesmen stand around the room wearing jockstraps and holding basketballs. Then, to drag the scene all the way down into cringe-worthiness, ’70s TV star Jimmie “J.J.” Walker shows up in the hut to perform a ventriloquist act, and Walker’s “dummy” is played by little-person actor Billy Barty. In blackface. It’s like that for the movie’s entire 84-minute running time. The UN Secretary-General lauds Lionel’s achievement by saying, “Next to you, the moon walk was doo-doo.” Lionel’s cousin Danny (Alex Rocco) makes a TV deal to broadcast the impending birth, and then says, “If the money’s up front, we can show Lionel’s gentiles.”
Crystal struggles valiantly to give a humane performance while Rivers bombards viewers with clunky one-liners and laborious sight gags, but the shallowness and stupidity is stultifying. Rivers’ desperation shows in the way she crams in bit-part performances by second-rate celebrities including Norman Fell, George Gobel, Rosey Grier, Peter Marshall, Roddy McDowall, Tom Poston, Charlotte Rae, and, of course, Rivers herself. None of it generates so much as a chuckle, except perhaps for the outrageous line that flamboyant comic Paul Lynde delivers while playing an excitable gynecologist: “Call maintenance—I have sperm all over my desk again!”
Rabbit Test: LAME