The explosive success of Saturday Night Live opened the floodgates for comedy troupes whose material addressed hip themes, so presumably that’s why a second-rate outfit called the Ace Trucking Company got to make a feature-length anthology of gags loosely arranged around the premise of a massive earthquake devastating Southern California. (Because, of course, what’s funnier than a catastrophe that kills millions of people?) The running gag in this painfully unfunny movie involves news coverage of how people have responded to the disaster, so skits involve addled victims, loopy scientists, and opportunistic entrepreneurs, among others. Yet at least half the picture comprises scenes unrelated to the earthquake theme—it’s as if the Ace Trucking Company cleared out its warehouse of sketches, whether they suited the framework of the movie or not. Some comedians who later did much better work appear in Cracking Up, including Edie McClurg, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard, and the duo of Michael McKean and David L. Lander—soon to become “Lenny and Squiggy” on TV’s Laverne & Shirley. (FYI, some players in Cracking Up were part of a comedy troupe called The Credibility Gap, so the picture represents a convergence of two second-rate ensembles.)
Since there’s no story to critique, all that’s needed to give a sense of Cracking Up are descriptions of a few gags. In one bit, Lander plays a moron delivering a PSA lamenting discrimination against Polish-Americans; riffing on Smokey the Bear’s famous line, he says, “Only you can prevent Polish people from catching on fire.” In another bit, a man standing at a urinal drops a dime into a slot marked “Build Your Ego,” and a window opens so McClurg (inexplicably dressed in a cowgirl outfit and flailing six-guns) can compliment the size of the man’s penis. “How’s that hammer hanging, baby?” Elsewhere, flamboyant funnyman Stephen Stucker (later to play a super-gay air traffic controller in 1980’s Airplane!), does a queeny credit-card ad for “GayAmericard.” And at one point, Shearer imitates Dan Akyroyd’s famous Saturday Night Live riff on’70s talk-show host Tom Snyder. Yawn. While Cracking Up has minor historical value as a showcase for emerging talents, the flick registers 0.0 on the comedic Richter scale.
Cracking Up: LAME