Saturday, February 17, 2018

J-Men Forever (1979)

          Peter Bergman and Phil Proctor, two of the guys from counterculture comedy troupe the Firesign Theatre, wrote this silly flick marrying a new soundtrack (and a few new scenes) to selected clips from old Republic serials. Hence the juxtaposition of Captain America, Captain Marvel, Rocket Man, and other characters with verbal jokes about sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. There’s a plot, something about an evil DJ called the Lightning Bug trying to take over the world with mind-controlling rock music, but the narrative is just a way of stringing gags together. To Bergman’s and Proctor’s credit, they mostly avoid offensive and/or scatological humor, so J-Men Forever is family-friendly, or at least as family-friendly as a flick about dope-smoking government agents can be. Are most of the jokes dumb and forgettable? Of course. But criticizing the movie for failing to meet standards to which it never aspired seems pointless. Better to contextualize this as a (very) minor link in the chain stretching from What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966) to Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) to Mystery Science Theater 3000 and beyond. Repurposing old movie clips may not be the most imaginative style of storytelling, but it’s not the least imaginative, either.
          Bergman and Proctor play “J-Men” in black-and-white clips that are shot to resemble the style of the Republic footage with which new scenes are intercut. They send agents (in the form of Captain America, etc.) to battle the Lightning Bug in his many guises. As for the jokes, the following should tell the tale: “You don’t know disco from Crisco!” “Good morning, Los Angeles, this is K-R-A-P!” And so on. The heroes’ office is in the “J-Men’s Room” of the Pentagon (in “Washington AC/DC”), and instead of yelling “Shazam!” Billy Batson shouts “Sh Boom,” triggering a cover of the old tune “Sh Boom Sh Boom.” The point seems not to satirize the Republic clips, but rather to use the clips as a means of taking the piss out of old-fashioned sensibilities in general. Fair enough. But seeing as how the pop-culture landscape of the ’70s also included National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live and the like, it’s easy to see why the gently derisive J-Men Forever failed to garner much attention.

J-Men Forever: FUNKY


Booksteve said...

I caught it in a packed revival theater in the early '80s though, and it was much more fun with a crowd. I was clear-headed. I can't vouch for the rest of the people in the theater.

Xteve said...

I still quote the "Pvt. Partz" gag from this film.