Representing not only a feeble attempt at absurdist humor but also a disastrous moment in the careers of two Hollywood luminaries, Get to Know Your Rabbit is such a misfire that it spent two years on the shelf at Warner Bros. before the studio finally arranged a half-hearted release. The picture was Brian De Palma’s first studio assignment, and his involvement ended when he was fired during principal photography. Similarly, the movie was TV funnyman Tom Smothers’ first and last starring role in a major movie. Written by Jordan Crittenden, Get to Know Your Rabbit tries for outlandish satire about the dehumanizing aspects of corporate culture. Marketing executive Donald (Smothers) quits his job the day terrorists explode a bomb at his office—a random event that neither makes sense nor adds anything to the story. Seeking a more fulfilling lifestyle, Donald studies with the eccentric Delasandro (Orson Welles) and becomes a tap-dancing magician. Then Donald goes on tour, enlisting his former boss, an alcoholic named Paul (John Astin), to serve as his manager. While Donald performs in seedy nightclubs across America and romances a young woman identified only as Terrific-Looking Girl (Katharine Ross), Paul creates a corporate empire called TDM—as in Tap Dancing Musicians.
Yes, the supposedly high-larious central joke of the movie is that so many people hate their jobs, just like Donald did, that thousands of them happily quit the 9-to-5 world in order to become kitschy entertainers. The tone of the movie is as much of a mess as the story. Characters who should seem eccentric instead come across as insane, jokes fall flat in nearly every scene, and the hyperactive music score tries to pump life into unresponsive footage. As for the would-be wacky dialogue? Consider this exchange between Donald and a floozy named Susan (Samantha Jones). Donald: “I don’t know exactly how to ask you this, but how long have you been a cheap broad?” Susan: “Oh, it’s an off and on thing.” De Palma’s signature overhead shots, split-screen gimmicks, and topless scenes merely add to the overall confusion, and Smothers’ performance runs the short gamut from nasty to nonexistent. Meanwhile, costars Astin, Allen Garfield, and Ross play their roles well, though each seems to exist in a different movie than the rest of the cast. Some cinematic train wrecks are fascinating, but Get to Know Your Rabbit is not one of them.
Get to Know Your Rabbit: LAME