The original Rutles special was the first "mockumentary" of its kind, a sometimes dead-on spoof of The Beatles that paved the way for This is Spinal Tap (1984), Forgotten Silver (1995), Waiting for Guffman (1996), and other clever (and not so clever) fake documentaries. Conceived and co-directed by Eric Idle, the original Rutles lampooned the ups and downs of The Beatles' careers, from their appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show to their jokey press conferences, their drug use, movies and gradual break-up.
Idle's script was pretty funny, and the onscreen appearances of Bill Murray, John Belushi, Paul Simon, Mick Jagger and others, all swearing to The Rutles' existence, added to its good-natured playfulness. The real Beatles probably loved it. (George Harrison must have, as he appears in it briefly.) But The Rutles' greatest asset was the remarkable faux-Beatles songs written by Bonzo Dog Band founder Neil Innes. All at once they cleverly spoofed specific songs and their occasional pretentiousness - "I Am the Walrus," for instance, was transformed into the hilarious "Piggy in the Middle" - yet these delightful tunes also worked as entertaining, goofy original works all by themselves. Any serious Beatles fan should supplement their collection with at least one Rutles CD.
Innes doesn't appear to have been involved at all with Can't Buy Me Lunch (2002), even though he wrote a batch of new songs for a 1996 album, The Rutles - Archeology. Instead, the 56-minute show unimaginatively reuses much of the original TV special, cut with new interviews featuring musicians/pop stars (David Bowie, Bonnie Raitt, Graham Nash, Clint Black, Dave Stewart, Jewel) and other celebrities (Tom Hanks, Salman Rushdie, Catherine O'Hara, Billy Connolly, etc.) discussing the "influence" The Rutles has had on their lives.
These new interviews compare unfavorably to the earnestness of similar "interviews" in Forgotten Silver, or the free-form lunacy of those found in Spinal Tap. Partly this is because conversations about The Rutles must fall in line with the straight, point-by-point lampoon of Beatlemania, but also because the new interviews are required to match, however vaguely, footage shot a quarter-century earlier. (Indeed, one sloppy joke completely contradicts what's shown onscreen, so they weren't even careful in this regard.) Often the material simply repeats if slightly alters (but never improves upon) gags done better in the original show. Some of the interviews are downright embarrassing. Only the conversation with Gary Shandling has any real sense of fun ("I was captivated," he says of seeing The Rutles on Ed Sullivan, "and just short of being turned on"). He seems to have personally adapted the material given him, or maybe he insisted on writing his own jokes entirely.
Reportedly former Pythons can't escape legions of fans who insist on repeating famous bits of dialogue back at them ("KnowwhatImean, nudge-nudge, say no more say no more!"). One doubts Idle will be besieged with fans quoting from the lame jokes presented here. Idle produced this atrocity in association with Lorne Michaels and his Broadway Video label; one can only speculate whether Idle and Michaels didn't want to admit to themselves they had a turkey on their hands or, more likely, they didn't care that they were shamelessly cashing in on the affection many fans have for the original program. In any case, those consumers buying something sold as The Rutles 2 are within their rights to feel completely ripped off.
Video & Audio
Can't Buy Me Lunch is presented in its original full frame format. The new scenes are shot on video, with footage from the original show shot on film looking sharp and cleaner than it did when the first The Rutles originally aired. The 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo sound is okay; English and French subtitles are included.
Only masochists would want to endure yet more of this dreadful program. But, for those who can't get enough, there's 26 minutes of Additional Interviews not quite up to the high standards of the main feature. The same holds true for the outrageously funny Melvin Outtakes and side-splitting Alternate Ending.
Can't Buy Me Lunch is the kind of comedy met with an enthusiasm that quickly gives way to the sound of appalled silence and chirping crickets. To quote The Rutles, "Ouch!"
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf -- The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. His new book, Cinema Nippon will be published by Taschen in 2005.