Friday, August 21, 2009


Every now and then a movie crawls out of the independent feature pile that presents a view of humanity so vile and atrocious that it forces the viewer to go introspective and question their own ethics and morality. A movie like THE DOOM GENERATION takes homophobia and runs violently amok with garden shears on the sensibilities. A movie like SPANKING THE MONKEY offers sleeping with one’s mother as an alternative to masturbation. The WORLD’S GREATEST DAD presents a similarly appalling take on auto-erotic asphyxiation. But it falls short of its attempt to jar the viewer to the core, and the gesture at the end towards redemption of all of the darkness is ultimately unsatisfactory.

A lot of critics have been trumpeting this film as the triumphant return of Bobcat Goldthwait, the twitchy, raspy-voiced slouch who got his big start in the POLICE ACADEMY movies. He has been scarce since his massive commercial flop SHAKES THE CLOWN back in 1991. SHAKES THE CLOWN has its funny moments, but it completely unraveles towards the end. The scene with a kid pissing in the hung-over birthday clown’s face is funny, but that is just about all the entertainment that the film offers. SHAKES THE CLOWN failed, and Goldthwait disappeared into the abyss of cartoon voicing and comedy sketch directing.

WORLD’S GREATEST DAD sees Goldthwait back in the director’s chair on a film that he has also written. As with SHAKES THE CLOWN, the third act unravel happens as if on cue. Goldthwait has written himself into a corner. He “Hollywoods” himself out of this corner by manually righting all of the fixable wrongs. But this feels artificial, and then the film is without direction for the final ten minutes. These are some of the most excruciatingly protracted minutes of film I have ever endured.

Furthermore, although the sight of Robin Williams’ genitalia and a baptism cliché suggest that deliverance might be at hand, it isn’t. The door to complete redemption is closed softly but clumsily in our face. Goldthwait can direct some pretty scenes, but he is more talented at fumbling a third act than Spike Lee.

WORLD’S GREATEST DAD stars Robin Williams, who plays Lance Clayton, a broken, nebbish high school poetry teacher. Lance has a son named Kyle (Daryl Sabara) who is an Internet porn crazed, offensive, uncreative teenager. Sabara is an amusing choice for this role considering his clean SPY KIDS past.

Lance Clayton is a failed writer. He has several unpublished novels under his belt, attendance in his poetry class is dwindling, and the class might get cancelled if he can’t inspire his students. Kyle, a discipline case at the same school, is inches away from being bounced into special education for his constant misbehavior.

Early on in the film Lance catches Kyle masturbating while choking himself out with a belt. Lance processes this disturbing revelation in a matter of fact way that characterizes him as completely milquetoast. He isn’t terribly troubled, and Kyle isn’t remotely embarrassed. Their relationship is portrayed as fraught, filled with parental concern and teenage contempt. Kyle is a jerk. There is nothing loveable about his character. Clearly, Kyle is written this way in order to propel the plot after he successfully kills himself with the previously mentioned masturbation technique.

The only bright spot that Lance has in his life is the sexy young art teacher named Claire (Alexi Gilmore) who acts like she is into Lance but is really interested in a younger more athletic teacher. It is very clear that Lance needs a catalyst for his life to take off in the direction that he wants it to. This catalyst is the death of Lance’s irredeemable son.

Upon discovering Kyle’s corpse, Lance stages a hanging suicide rather than the accidental jerk-off/choke-out death that really happens. He writes a really heartfelt, verbose suicide note for Kyle, the note is made public, and soon the whole school is mourning the loss of a great, intelligent, sensitive peer. Everyone is now claiming a piece of Kyle. Lance capitalizes on this outpouring of saccharine sentiment to secure his girlfriend and realize his own literary ambitions as a ghost writer for his dead son.

Sick? Yes. Cynical? Definitely. Tasteless? No question. But the real problem with this film is that none of it leads to any sort of meaningful insight. The conclusion of the film attempts to offer some closure, but it is unsatisfactory.

Humorwise, the jokes are far apart in WORLD’S GREATEST DAD and when they do show up, they are messy, disjointed, and lame. Bobcat Goldthwait is back in the directing chair, but seriously, he isn’t doing much there. The only thing that is going to keep this film from fading completely into obscurity is the subject matter. Goldthwait has pulled the same trick he did with SHAKES THE CLOWN. He presents a relatively novel idea and literally beats it to death before our eyes. WORLD’S GREATEST DAD is incomplete. It is the product of someone who has meditated deeply on the trash in the gutter and not figured out how to present it in a funny, dramatic, or entertaining way.

-Mediasaurus Rex

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