One day, there will be nothing left in comedy history that wasn’t turned into some other form of pop culture. Every legendary comedian will have had their own biopic, every landmark film or TV show will have had its own behind-the-scenes documentary, and The Second City or The Comedy Store will have their rich visual histories immortalized in $14.99 coffee table books from Barnes and Noble. But until that day, where there still exist tidbits and pieces of comedy history that haven’t been warped into other forms of entertainment, we’ll have to sit through bad movies like “A Futile and Stupid Gesture.”
Here’s the thing about this review: everybody involved with this film, as well as everybody involved with the original National Lampoon, will tell you they don’t care about what this review has to say. At the same time, they’ll be desperately hoping they get a good review so people will watch their movie. That’s the not-so-surprising duality of comedy writers like those at the National Lampoon, and just humor in general. They think they’re too cool for school and obsess over how dumb their audience is and the scientific method behind what makes someone laugh. Is a joke really a joke if it doesn’t make you laugh? Are you a funny person if you don’t make people laugh? If John Belushi falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does that mean we can drink his Jack Daniels while he’s away?
Well, “A Futile and Stupid Gesture” does make us laugh at points, usually anytime Will Forte says or does something. Forte in this movie plays Doug Kenney, the guy who started National Lampoon and was a key voice in 1970s comedy. The Kenney shows up at the beginning of the movie, kind of in a mock-mockumentary-type way, and lurks in every now and then to give commentary on what we’re seeing. This occasional flashes of narration are not very appealing or very clever, his appearances serving as desperate pleas for you not to switch to something else on Netflix.
When real-Kenney isn’t onscreen, Forte-Kenney is going to Harvard, starting the National Lampoon, meeting other comedians, making movies, hanging out with Joel McHale’s Chevy Chase, and just having a ball in Hollywood. He meets a lot of people in the movie who aren’t well-developed enough so we kind of just forget about them. And while Forte makes us laugh, the movie itself carries a holier-than-thou humor vibe that feels both pretentious and a bit embarrassing.
And in a way, this feels like the only possible way that one could have made a National Lampoon movie. Something irreverent, overly-meta and off-putting that it still makes us laugh, even though we’re rolling our eyes far more. Your time is better suited to reading the Wikipedia page about Kenney and watching “Animal House” than sitting through this snoozefest.