I love The Kids in the Hall. The Canadian sketch comedy group, which rose to fame with their Lorne Michaels (Saturday Night Live) produced television show (1988-1994), embodies a unique blend of quirk and surreal not seen on television since Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974). The Chicken Lady, the Girl Drink Drunk, and Manny Coon’s art school commencement speech, are comedy classics that are as hilarious now as they were twenty years ago. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to sit down and watch The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy (1996), the troupe’s feature film debut that has been released to DVD by the good folks at Warner Archive.
Unfortunately, if Brain Candy is any indication, The Kids in the Hall – like their SNL brothers and sisters – are unable to sustain their unique brand of comedy over the course of ninety minutes. The film follows Dr. Chris Cooper (Kevin McDonald), a doctor who invents a new prescription drug for depression. The drug hones the patient’s mind – chemically, we are continuously reminded – onto his or her favorite memory. Meanwhile, falling profits at Don Roritor’s (Mark McKinney) pharmaceutical company push the executive to take drastic steps. He rushes Cooper’s drug, named GLeeMONEX (Get it? Glee+Money!), into production – before testing is complete. Despite Cooper’s initial reluctance, the drug goes on to beat penicillin. Everything seems to be going peachy – Cooper gets laid, Roritor’s profits go up, a closeted father comes out to his family with a musical number (“I’m Gay!”), and grunge singer Grivo changes his tune – until the drug’s first patient lapses into a happiness coma.
Of course, being a Kids in the Hall film, the narrative is given equal emphasis as its comedic digressions. For instance, one scene depicts Roritor’s agro marketing executive – and one of the film’s best caricatures – Cisco (Bruce McCulloch) from reading dialogue straight out of the Vitajex sequences in A Face in the Crowd (1957) to randomly getting a bird beak in his eyeball. This structure isn’t incredibly surprising. The Kids are throwing a lot of jokes at the wall to see what sticks. What is surprising, however, is how little of it sticks – even for this fan of the series. For instance, Cooper meets a young boy (McCulloch again) – subtly named “Cancer Boy” – stricken by cancer. The boy’s blend of physical lethargy and mental optimism is meant to embody some the blackest humor imaginable. Yet, and this is surprising considering that The Kids can do dark comedy really well, it inspires an initially uncomfortable chuckle before it just comes across as being mean (allegedly, the character made the film’s studio uncomfortable and may have led them to pull back efforts to market the film).
The talent of The Kids is undeniable and the troupe has the commendable ability to utilize a core of five members as an ensemble of characters (Thompson and McCulloch show a real range here) inhabiting the same universe (sometimes the same scene). However, this isn’t their shining moment. Fans of the troupe may be drawn to pick up the Warner Archive title (which is a manufactured DVD on demand service; if you’re unfamiliar with the label, these are barebones releases) but they may find themselves disappointed with what they find. Brain Candy is hardly better than Coneheads (1993) or most of the other SNL movies; it shows the same seams and gets stuck in the same potholes that come with trying to turn a bunch of sketches focused on one subject into a film.