Producers have spent years trying to mimic It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), the all-star comedy epic about an international treasure hunt. Lesser attempts, such as Scavenger Hunt, succumb to predictable problems including bloated running times and underwritten characters. Trying to adequately service roles for a dozen or more principal actors seems to vex even the most well-meaning filmmakers. Additionally, trying to maintain the desired level of hellzapoppin excitement for an entire feature film usually drives the people behind pictures like Scavenger Hunt to rely on chases, screaming, and slapstick—all of which get tiresome. Inevitably, the initial sugar rush leads to a crash. Although Scavenger Hunt is largely a disappointment, especially considering the incredible array of gifted comic actors appearing in the film, it has some meritorious elements. Cowriter/producer Steven Vail and his team (mostly) avoid taking cheap shots at ethnic stereotypes, and they play a clean game by opting for family-friendly jokes instead of lurid ones. It’s not difficult to see the frothy confection the filmmakers had in mind.
The premise, naturally, is simple. When multimillionaire board-game titan Milton Parker (Vincent Price) dies, his would-be heirs are forced to compete in a scavenger hunt that will determine who inherits the Parker fortune. On one team is Parker’s greedy sister (Cloris Leachman), along with her idiot son (Richard Masur) and her slimy lawyer (Richard Benjamin). Another team includes Parker’s son-in-law (Tony Randall) and the son-in-law’s kids. Next up is a duo comprising two of Parker’s nephews (played by Willie Aames and Dirk Benedict). Still another team features Parker’s household help—the butler (Roddy McDowall), the chauffeur (Cleavon Little), the chef (James Coco), and the maid (Stephanie Faracy). The wild-card contender is a dimwitted taxi driver (Richard Mulligan), whom Parker included because the cab driver accidentally killed Parker’s business partner, making Parker rich.
You can figure out where this goes—as the teams pursue items on their lists, the evil people bicker and steal while the virtuous people help each other. Some scenes that presumably were meant to be comic highlights fall flat, including a lengthy bit of McDowall supervising his team’s theft of a toilet from a hotel bathroom. Cameos from random actors (Ruth Gordon, Meat Loaf, Arnold Schwarzenegger) add little, and the gags are uninspired. Nonetheless, director Michael Schultz keeps everyone upbeat and moving fast, so several sequences generate mild amusement, especially the anything-goes finale. Additionally, while none of the performances truly stand out (excepting perhaps Benjamin’s vigorous turn as a long-suffering schmuck), the vibe is consistently and pleasantly silly.
Scavenger Hunt: FUNKY