March 2, 2012

RETRO ACTIVE: Run Ronnie Run (2002)

by Nick Schager

Run Ronnie Run

[This week's "Retro Active" pick is inspired by the TV sketch-comedy-goes-full-feature (sorta) Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie.]

The perils of transporting cult TV comedy to the big screen has few case studies more glaring than Run Ronnie Run, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross' sole, failed attempt to cross their '90s sketch-comedy sensation Mr. Show over to theaters. Plagued by studio interference and conflict with director Troy Miller, Odenkirk and Cross' film—a satire about fame and the burgeoning reality-TV craze focused on redneck idiot Ronnie Dobbs (Cross)—met an ignominious fate, with its release shuttled altogether in favor of a direct-to-DVD fate that, it turned out, was a deserving outcome for a work that even its makers eventually admitted wasn't very good. That subversive small-screen comedians floundered in transposing free-flowing comedic insanity to a more structured three-act movie isn't a particularly unique development (see also: The Kids in the Hall's Brain Candy). Yet more frustrating about Run Ronnie Run isn't that it fails to generate a high-wire, anything-goes spirit but that it seems almost disinterested in even trying to do so—after an animated faux-theater-advertisement in which a box of candy uses a lips-licking toilet, and then a segment in which a "Film Valedictorian of Hollywood" addresses the audience by encouraging kids to find forthcoming swear words, the random absurdity almost completely grinds to a halt, replaced by a narrative that seems sluggish at best, indifferent at worse.

Run Ronnie Run

Refusing to discard standard conventions, Run Ronnie Run instead gently mocks them while, in reality, not-so-subtly embracing them. The story proper concerns Ronnie, "a true man of Southern distinction" according to his hillbilly friend and narrator Clay (David Koechner), who becomes a media sensation via regular appearances fleeing the police after drunken mishaps on a Cops-style TV show called Fuzz. A low-class idiot with no ambition except wreaking havoc and getting wasted with his friends (who entertain themselves by encouraging a dog to eat vomit in a convenience store parking lot), Ronnie nonetheless becomes a Hollywood star when British TV producer Terry Twilstein (Odenkirk) gives him his own show and it turns into an instant hit. That turn of events is intended to skewer celebrity as asinine and reality TV as lowest common denominator-courting crap, but Run Ronnie Run's critique is undercut by its decision to make Ronnie a dim-witted sweetie at heart—he may be a degenerate, but he truly loves his trailer-park baby mama Tammy (Jill Talley)—and by failing to directly censure audiences as complicit in making such tabloidy televised garbage so popular. Rather, it merely ridicules with gentle jabs, slamming infomercials (Terry's Food-errator product kills its cohost) and Survivor (contestants are actually murderous cannibals) with a toothlessness that's compounded by such gags' datedness.

Run Ronnie Run

As Ronnie makes his way to Tinseltown, Odenkirk and Cross' tale takes occasionally loopy detours that hint at what a real Mr. Show film should have been. An R&-B music video (related to Ronnie's affair with Nikki Cox's beer model) that features the inspired lyric "I stuck my penis in your thoughtful vagina," an out-of-left-field interlude about the secret multi-billion-dollar gay conspiracy apparatus, and a Mary Poppins-ish musical number featuring Jack Black singing with a cartoon squirrel all boast the very comedic abandon that should have been center stage throughout Run Ronnie Run, rather than punctuation marks scattered amidst an otherwise straightforward rise-fall-rise saga. If these sequences suggest a free-form lunacy that never fully materializes, however, they also, more depressingly, prove not all that funny. And as for the rest of the material, it flounders about in search of an occasional one-liner that will energize its mundane action, occasionally hitting upon something inspired—as when a fat kid beats the crap out of kidnappers using moves learned from videogames (not funny) scored to a background heavy metal song with on-the-nose lyrics (mildly funny)—but generally wasting time on rebel-vs.-establishment nonsense (involving Ronnie's conflict with M.C. Gainey's local sheriff) that barely elicits a half-hearted chuckle.

Run Ronnie Run

Terry and Ronnie's first encounter, in which the idiotically accented Terry inadvertently propositions Ronnie with a series of gay double-entendres, is indicative of the lameness that permeates the proceedings, which are too often obvious and milquetoast even when they strive to be daring. Despite Odenkirk and Cross' post-production battles to save the film from what they viewed as shameful mishandling and bastardization, Run Ronnie Run's issues have far less to do with sloppy technical construction than a sheer lack of imagination and confidence, both of which are problems that it's hard to imagine would have been rectified by any sought-after re-edit by its makers. The unavoidable reality is that the material is simply, woefully light on the smart, unruly madness that made Mr. Show such a hit and helped launch its cast (which also included Black, Sarah Silverman and Patton Oswalt) to more high-profile subsequent careers. "Y'all are brutalizing me!" may be Ronnie's empty-headed catchphrase, but Odenkirk and Cross' film is less an unjustly mistreated work than, ultimately, just a convention-embracing creative misfire without the courage to operate without a safety net.



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Posted by ahillis at March 2, 2012 10:06 AM