Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Eat the Rich will be a total loss for many viewers but an item of passing interest for fans of oddball Brit comedy of the 1980s, most of which has remained alien territory for American viewers. As closely as Savant can put this together, comedians and writers Peter Richardson and Tim Van Rellim, known for a comic revue Television show called The Comic Strip concocted this grandiose satire as a rallying call for dozens of comics and celebrity guests. If you've heard of TV shows with the names Whoops Apocalypse, A. B'stard Exposed, Filthy Rich and Catflap, The Supergrass, or Bring Me the Head of Mavis Davis, you may already have be familiar with this kind of comedy.
Had it succeeded Eat the Rich might have become the Casino Royale of comedy extravaganzas. Alas, it shapes up as a fairly witless parade of grotesque characters doing crazy comedy schtick loaded with toothless political lampoons and gross-out jokes too predictable to be funny. Infantile Marxists might get off on the level of humor, but Eat the Rich just doesn't have enough interesting content to hang onto.
Surly Jamaican waitress Alex (Lanah Pellay, actually Alan Pellay, a female impersonator) can't stand the intolerably snooty clientele at Bastards, a posh London restaurant for silly-ass rich people. After being thrown out for bad behavior she's further abused by the social system, and then joins with another homeless person, steals a car and heads for the country to start a grass-roots Marxist revolution ... armed with Druid longbows. Meanwhile, crass cockney Home Secretary Nosher (Fred "Nosher" Powell) stays popular by publicly arresting terrorists and threatening strikers. He drinks beer at state dinners, flirts with the Queen and is caught on camera with a hooker. But his unregenerate attitude only makes him more popular, much to the chagrin of Soviet agent Commander Fortune (Ronald Allen), whose ongoing efforts to discredit Nosher come to naught. Alex's four-strong revolution finally returns to the Bastards restaurant, annihilates its staff and patrons, and reopens the joint as a new venue serving an odd meat dish listed on the menu as mince. The new name for this cannibalistic emporium is Eat the Rich.
Eat the Rich is unfortunately an unpleasant mess. The script is 50 comic sketches or so crammed together with a minimal plot and nothing to tie it all together except an occasional injection of Motorhead rock music. The satire criticizes economic and political inequity but offers only ripe comic exaggerations of obnoxiously monstrous rich people, all of whom are irredeemably selfish and spoiled. But there's no real anger involved because the condescending swells are all played as comedy targets. Undeserving waitress Alex stands in the rain pleading to some tuxedoed 'old friends' for a warm place to stay but is met with glassy-eyed smiles and advice to "get out of the cold." A vindictive bureaucrat responds to Alex's hostile attitude by happily tearing up her relief paperwork, so Alex shoots two civil servants dead. It's not remotely funny.
Nosher Powell has mainly been a stuntman for forty years, appearing uncredited in everything from The Quatermass Xperiment to the Bond films to For a Few Dollars More and Star Wars. His brash and loutish Home Secretary goes through a number of trials while spies try unsuccessfully to ruin his reputation. His fat wife leaves him after he flirts with the Queen and when he eventually patches up the relationship, he picks the wrong restaurant. In the film's action highlights, Nosher brawls, knocks out a roomful of Terrorists and rides on the outside of a helicopter, but he's more likely to be seen urinating in public places, a privilege treated as a perk, like being able to park anywhere he chooses.
Eat the Rich is packed with vignettes by notable comics and actors, but those not familiar with the television comedy shows they came from won't be catching the in-jokes, if there are any. Jennifer Saunders of Absolutely Fabulous has a good bit as the P.M.'s wife, lording it over the paltry perks of a Home Secretary's spouse. But most of the stars show up only for brief cameos, including Paul McCartney (one line and a funny look) and Robbie Coltrane (of Harry Potter and Goldeneye). Actor spotters will find fertile ground - Savant knows these folks by name but didn't catch them all: Sandra Dorne (Sukey Tawdrey in Olivier's The Beggar's Opera), Fiona Richmond (said to be a Brit hardcore performer), Katrin Cartlidge (Breaking the Waves, Naked), Rik Mayall (Drop Dead Fred), Bill Wyman, Koo Stark, Miranda Richardson, Dave Beard, Dawn French, Sue Lloyd (The Ipcress File) and Darren Nesbitt. Most of them strike perfect attitudes, but few have good comedy material to work with.
Nobody said that comedy is easy, but in hindsight we can see that successful scattershot satires of this kind are ones that have a unifying point, a reason to be. Lindsay Anderson's Britannia Hospital at least has a coherent theme somewhere in its catalogue of unpleasant excess. Compare to this show, The Ruling Class is a comedy masterpiece. Classic black comedies like Doctor Strangelove and The Loved One succeed because they chomp down hard on their respective satirical targets and never let go, but Eat the Rich makes its depressing points early and never varies the gags. The poor are victimized by the rich (a debatable topic). Terrorism is fun (perhaps debatable then, fighting words now). The "Sweeny Todd" solution is a laugh riot (Not). Nowhere is there the wit of Monty Python or the cold-blooded bleak anger of Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend. And the visual direction looks more or less like a Television show.
To justify these comments with a positive example, Savant's idea of a brilliant 'scattershot' satire organized into a coherent whole is Theodore J. Flicker's The President's Analyst.
Eat the Rich concludes in an orgy of vomiting and cracked noggins, with a 'sentimental' epilogue on a country lane. The last line of dialogue is an unfinished "knock knock" joke, which sounds funnier than it is. Eat the Rich may be the height of hilarity for viewers familiar with its home-turf comedy stylings, but I fear it will be a near-total loss for uninitiated American viewers.
Image and New Line's Eat the Rich is a good transfer of this crazy English comedy, with reasonable color and a good enhanced image. The biggest drawback for American audiences will be the lack of English subs, for the usual reason that the local dialects and general slurring of words make many lines inaudible to thick-eared Yanks. There are no extras. At the very least, we could really use a spotting guide to the stars or bios on the filmmakers.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Eat the Rich rates:
Movie: Fair ++
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: December 11, 2005
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson