In 10 Words or Less
The best "SNL" collection ever. Yeah...that's the ticket!
By all rights, Jon Lovitz should not be a popular star. He isn't what one would call a pin-up, and he's certainly never played anyone lovable in any conventional sense. Most of his characters are a mix of self-loathing and intense bravado. Yet, he remains a very popular actor, with a memorable list of characters, including starring roles like Jay Sherman, his caustic film reviewer on "The Critic" or bit parts played large like Jimmie Moore, the wedding singer he portrayed in The Wedding Singer. But no matter what other roles he takes on, he will be best remembered for the laughs he earned as part of the cast of "Saturday Night Live."
Lovitz joined the show in 1985, during a time of tumult in the show's history. Some of the series' worst casts ever were followed by a season where Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Martin Short and Harry Shearer joined the regular cast. That only lasted one season, and the show's roster was revamped, bringing in future stars Dennis Miller, Joan Cusack, Robert Downey, Jr., Randy Quaid, Damon Wayans and Lovitz. That didn't work either.
The next season, Miller and Lovitz (along with featured cast member A. Whitney Brown) would be the only ones left standing, as the golden age of "SNL" was ushered in by a new crew featuring Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks and Kevin Nealon, among others. Lovitz became a bridge between one of the lowest points in the show's history and some of its highest peaks. That he often stood our among some of the show's most talented casts (leaving just before arguable the best cast ever, the 1990-1991 season) was a testament to his ability to make people laugh.
After breaking their patterns with "The Best of Jimmy Fallon," Lions Gate is back to its old tricks, with the standard "SNL" Best-Of DVD presentation. The now traditional orange-tinged film-strip full-frame menus provide options to watch the show as a whole or by sketch, or check out special features. There are no language or subtitle options, but the feature has closed captioning.
Here are the sketches included in this collection:
Tommy Finnegan - An episode opener, this sketch paired the pathological liar with Jerry Hall and Mick Jagger. The back story is more interesting than the actual sketch, but its one of Lovitz' biggest characters.
People's Court - Lovitz plays a a schlumpy Devil taken to court by a hairdresser he gave some help. He's perfect as the above-it-all lord of the underworld, humbled by a low-budget costume. When he lowers himself to the level of Jan Hooks' hillbilly barfly, it's simply hilarious.
Portrait of an Artist: Picasso - This is a great example of Lovitz cutting loose as an egomaniacal Picasso. He's matched by Phil Hartman as a ridiculous waiter. It's sublimely stupid.
Annoying Man - If ever a part belonged to Lovitz, it's this one, as he does the most annoying things possible in a short bit on Dennis Miller's Weekend Update. Rather reminiscent of the old sketch The Whiners.
Hanukkah Harry - When Hartman's Santa falls ill, it's up to Lovitz' Hebrew hero, Hanukkah Harry, to save the day. Playing off Jewish stereotypes, he creates a sketch that may be short on belly laughs but is extremely memorable.
Dunkin' Donuts - Playing the "time to make the donuts" guy in an extremely dark vein, he's on the verge of retirement from his famous commercials. Will Ferrell provides a great foil as the commercial's director, watching Lovitz just go off the deep end. Unfortunately, the ending is rather weak.
Plug Away with Harvey Fierstein - Lovitz does such a dead-on caricature of the gravel-voiced star, complete with a great catchphrase, that it actually led to complaints from Fierstein. As a bonus, you also get interplay with Hartman, a John Travolta imitation by Dana Carvey and an appearance by Kathleen Turner.
One More Mission - This is one of those sketches that's not exactly funny, coming off more like a one-scene play that's only made enjoyable by the actors. Hartman and Lovitz play old-movie stereotypes, as Lovitz tries to get the point through to Hartman that his acting career is over. This is one of many times Lovitz and Hartman gave in to the chance to do their own thing, whether it worked or not.
Frenchie - How this made it into a Best-Of collection is a question that will stump many, as it's a concept that crashed and burned. Attempting to be as insulting as possible, Lovitz' French character spews hate happily on Weekend Update.
Beauty and the Beast - In a parody of the old TV show, the overwhelming suave and dramatic Vincent takes Katherine on a double date with her friend, played by Demi Moore, and another beast, played with trademark awkwardness by Lovitz.
The Girl Watchers - Tom Hanks joins Lovitz to portray a pair of losers attending their high-school reunion. They recount their failures with upbeat enthusiasm and a monotone delivery that's funny and sad at the same time.
Imitation Montage - The usual clips of imitations shows Lovitz as Michael Dukakis, David Crosby, Queen of England, Andrew "Dice" Clay, Ringo Starr, Yasser Arafat and Marv Albert. The Dice and Albert bits aren't great, but the others hit the mark.
Master Thespian - One of Lovitz' signature roles on "SNL," the Master Thespian lets his biggest strengths shine, especially when matched up against John Lithgow, who portrays his mentor, Boudelaire. They one-up each other again and again, making this one of the best and funniest sketches on this DVD.
Weekend Update Correspondent - Instead of reporting on the news, Lovitz delivers an infomercial about himself, playing on the extremes of his acting persona.
Mocking the Lordship - John Malkovich plays a mockery-phobic noble in a Victorian-Era sketch that features Lovitz and Carvey as members of his court who mock him mercilessly behind his back. Malkovich is simply hilarious in this talent-loaded sketch starring Hartman, Hooks, and Mike Myers.
Tonto, Tarzan and Frankenstein - The monosyllabic trio sing "The Little Drummer Boy" to outstanding comedic effect. This one is stolen entirely by Hartman as Frankenstein's monster.
Stand-Ups - Hanks, Lovitz, Carvey and Miller have a backstage discussion talking solely like Jerry Seinfeld imitators. It's hard to tell if it's mocking his stage cadence or paying homage to it.
Tales of Ribaldry - As Evelyn Quince, Lovitz is the ancestor of Chris Kattan's Azrael Abyss, playing an over-the-top dandy to creepy and hilarious effect. Mel Gibson isn't half bad himself as the woodsman in Quince's ribald tale.
Tommy Finnegan - The pathological liar is joined in jail by Pee-Wee Herman. Herman goes lie-for-lie with Tommy, building their false biographies, in one of those rare moments when the show's guest host is used to excellent effect.
Eddie Spumozzo - Lovitz and Hartman recreate more of Hollywood's history, in this noir sketch featuring Lovitz as a screaming gangster who also sings jazz songs. Not really funny, but it serves as a neat and clean ending for the show.
The full-frame video varies from sketch to sketch, as the collection covers more than 10 years of television, from his first year to his return as a guest host in 1997. Most of the clips are in good shape, though older clips look a bit soft. Fine detail isn't very impressive, but the colors are nicely reproduced.
The audio is simple 2.0 stereo, just as it was on television. Nothing about the sound on this disc is too dynamic, but it's an appropriate mix for comedy sketches.
Thankfully, the producers kept one change from the Fallon DVD, and that's the inclusion of an audio commentary by the featured subject. Lovitz is rather humble, though he admits he enjoys watching himself on video and finds himself funny. There are way too many lengthy dead spaces in the track, but it gets good when he discusses his late friend Hartman or his issues with Fierstein. It's also fun listening to him get cracked-up by his own sketches or be surprised by the choices ("What the hell is this?!".)
Based on his audition tape, inlcuded on this DVD, it's a surprise he ever made the show. Aided by Randy Quaid, he delivers a trio of bits, none of which are very funny. The clip is nice for historical value, but as comedy, it's pretty bad.
This disc also provides a dress rehearsal sketch with Leslie Neilsen, that's based off his audition tape. Like that tape, this sketch isn't full of laughs, despite Neilsen's presence. Much funnier is a 10-minute Lovitz appearance on Conan O'Brien's show from several years ago. A veteran of TV, he knows how to play the game and uses that knowledge to pull off some funny jokes, including a man-on-the-street segment that's great.
The Bottom Line
Lovitz may be very talented, but his output on "SNL" is better remembered than it actually was. He truthfully only had a few great characters, along with some small hits the rest of the way. The rest of his sketches ranged from mediocre to below average. Therefore, it's really questionable whether Lovitz rated a Best-Of DVD, but after Tracy Morgan got one, the bar came down a bit. Fans of the Master Thespian should enjoy this DVD, especially the audio commentary, but for the rest of society, it's a rental at best.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.