Drop Dead Fred

Director: Ate de Jong

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

On her lunch break Lizzie (Phoebe Cates, playing her one-note character as though she's on barbituates) loses her husband (Tim Matheson bringing no depth to his depthless role of a jerk), gets her purse stolen, has her car jacked, & arrives back at work late so is fired.

Drop Dead FredNext day her intrusive controlling mother (Marsha Mason who actually manages to give her cruel-mother role barely enough complexity that she's sad & understandable rather than a villain) comes & gets Lizzie & takes her back to her unchanged room in mom's house.

Lizzie has now fully regressed to a place of childhood, in the poorly written imitation of Beetle Juice (1988), Drop Dead Fred (1991).

Surrounded by her childhood toys, she opens an old jack-in-the-box that had been taped tightly closed. And out pops Drop Dead Friend (Rik Mayall, England's Carrot Top), the red-haired, green-garbed, obnoxious & destructive Invisible Friend who was her constant companion when she was five years old.

In flashbacks we see some of her childhood adventures with Fred who was constantly getting her into serious trouble, as Lizzy had been very much a problem child. No one else ever saw Drop Dead Fred so it was assumed she was a little off her nut.

The adult Lizzy has less excuse for being such a dolt than does the child Lizzie. As a child it was understandable she might not fully understand that no one else could believe in or perceive Fred. But as an adult when she should know full well nobody can see him, she nevertheless gets herself in deeper trouble trying to stop him from doing embarrassing things as though people can see him.

She only makes herself look mad in public. But then no character anywhere in the film acts like anyone would at any point in the story.

I had an invisible friend when I was very little, Invisible Jimmy, whom the entire family got involved with, setting an extra plate as a table, even "punishing" Invisible Jimmy when he was naughty. Once my great-grampa got so annoyed with Jimmy that he picked him up by his beltloops & tossed him down the back steps. I had to run outside & save him.

And I remember when I "outgrew" Jimmy I was overwhelmed with guilt for not wanting him with me all the time. I found a quiet place in the corner of a barn to explain to him he had to leave. I was in tears, as I was still young enough to not be totally convinced his feelings were only my invention, still at that age where children's dreams, imagination, & reality are not fully distinguishable.

Drop Dead FredAnyone who likewise ever had an invisible friend is bound to be in this film's corner, & try awfully hard to forgive it its weaknesses.

Alas anyone with a lick of comprehension of effective comedy or skillful storytelling or well-drawn characterization will find it all too underwhelming, like an interminable Comedy Hut sketch concocted by inept comedians yet to master their craft.

The film is really at odds with itself. Buried in its corners is the assertion that creatures like Drop Dead Fred appear to children who would otherwise be very unhappy, alone, & misunderstood (evidence therefore of family dysfunction). They are allegedly healing genies or some such, though for all we can see they cause more dysfunction than they heal.

Lizzy's childhood invisible friend has returned because she has regressed to the same unhappiness & loneliness she felt as a child. His behavior presumedly will restore her sense of well-being after which he will disappear.

His misbehavior is given in contrast to an anal retentive mother who'd incite rebellion in anyone who wasn't completely beaten down into submission, but no objective view could possibly find the depth of Fred's destructiveness as healing of anyone.

In all his actions -- completely destroying a friend's home, breaking windows, rubbing dogshit on carpets & furniture -- alleging that this is healing behavior is like alleging that the worst thing that could happen to a pyromaniac is that he or she stops burning down peoples houses.

For his rebellious qualities, however, Fred should appeal to adolescents or drunks who would like personally to break out all the windows of their mother's house & can relate to the fantasy of dfestroying everything their insanely supportive best friend owns.

One psychological quirk of the script is how it blames the Mom for all the neuroses one can grow up with, but as for the absent father, without the slightest irony or jest he is let off the hook entirely as the good guy who wanted to help but the Mom was just too harmful so he left forever.

So viewers who blame their own mothers, who tried & failed to parent well, but who adore their fathers who didn't even try, will probably relate to Drop Dead Fred's constantly confirming for Lizzy that her mother's a monster.

Fred's so excessively obnoxious that he seems only a dangerous companion for a child. The script (unlike that for Beetle Juice) doesn't seem to realize how repulsive & inappropriate a misbehaving grown man in a child's life is. If he'd been more her own age back when she was a child, & only grown when she was grown, it might have seemed less inappropriate. Instead he seems likely to be a child molester.

Most of the support cast is about as bad. Lizzy's best friend Janey (Carrie Fisher) is so wildly supportive of Lizzy, then when Lizzy, blaming Drop Dead Fred, sinks Janey's houseboat with everything she owns on it, her response (to pretend to beat up an invisible man) is not much of a joke & certainly not an actual human response to losing one's home & everything in it.

All other characters are equally shallow, especially Lizzy's unfaithful husband, with Liz herself distinctly uninteresting in her endlessly foolish choices in life, all of which can be blamed on Mom if not on Fred, but responsibility for one's own choices & behavior is never within Lizzy's worldview.

Almost nothing's funny. Some people actually would laugh out loud at parts of it, I'm sure, & champion the film by assuming anyone who doesn't laugh is just like Evil Mom or they'd get it. I have to take their word for it that if you hated your own mother sufficiently, Drop Dead Fred rubbing dogshit on her carpets or destroying the dining room set is a laugh riot.

I found little worthy of even a smile. When preschool Lizzie asked her dad to toss mom out the window, that made me laugh. Child-Lizzy is throughout a better actor than any of the adults, with better comic timing. She's played by Ashley Peldon, today an ingenue who has thus far done nothing else especially noticeable.

But there's one long bit which is at least very imaginative even if poorly developed. Lizzy's mom takes her back to the child psychologist she'd seen as a kid, a man who specializes in "Invisible Friend Syndrome." Drop Dead Fred is very excited by this excursion, as all the children's invisible friends (universally creepy like Fred) are present, unseen by the parents.

Now that was a clever story idea. Too bad the writer wasn't up to developing it fully.

The intriguing possibility that all invisible friends are real is soon over with. Then we're back to Lizzy's psychological problems & emotional crises. The film returns to abject dullness & failed humor, until we get a second intriguing sequence in which Drop Dead Fred transports Lizzy into her own imagination or subconscious.

The world inside her head isn't exactly worthy of Dali but it's interesting. As a psychological exercise is't facile but as fantasy it's kind of cool. While in her head she's cured of all her emotional problems, which means she won't be able to perceive Fred anymore.

They kiss goodbye & she wakes up back in the real world cured of neuroses. That means she's now able to leave her two-timing husband & deal with her controlling mother in a healthy adult manner.

And since adult decision making boils down to dating in this shallow film's perspective, now she can start dating the miscast swishy pretty-boy gay actor (Ron Eldard) who does a very poor impersonation of a straight man interested in Lizzy.

There's a third intriguing scene in the coda which furthers the mythology of "invisible friends are real" in which Lizzy learns what became of Drop Dead Fred after he vanished forever form her perception.

It's too damned bad this was such an awful film with so little that could be mistaken for touching or funny. The three short sequences that worked could have had a far better film could've been built. As it stands, we have a cult classic for whoever blames their own failures at life on their moms.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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