Beavis and Butthead Do America
Screenplay : Mike Judge and Joel Stillman
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1996
Movies based on television shows are decidedly dangerous fare. After several years of watching a group of characters for only half an hour at a time, it's hard to sit down and spend a full two hours with them. Why do you think most special one-hour episodes are broken into two parts and shown during different weeks?
Alas, with their ever-expanding popularity and many admissions into the 90's pop cultural vocabulary, it was obvious that Beavis and Butthead, those two whacked-out, hormonally overloaded and mentally deficient animated teenagers from MTV, would make their way to the big screen.
And, as one would expect, their first movie, "Beavis and Butthead Do America," is about as funny as three Beavis and Butthead episodes shown back to back, which depends on how you view the TV show. Wisely, creator/writer/director/actor Mike Judge kept the movie at a slim hour and a half, so he could fit in as many jokes as possible without becoming a bore.
To me, Beavis and Butthead are funny in small quantities. Ten or fifteen minutes at a time is hilarious, but after that it begins to get a little repetitious. How could it not? All they think about is sex, nachos, and TV, and all their conversations circle around those subjects using a grand vocabulary of about twenty words, only three of which have more than two syllables.
The movie does basically what the TV show does: it sets up a variety of situations, sticks B & B in the middle of them, and then laughs at their inane and ridiculous responses to everything. To do this, the movie sets up the premise that their TV, the emotional core of their lives, has been stolen, so they must recover it.
During their pursuit, they accidentally wind up in a hotel room with a drunken lout (voiced by none other than Bruce Willis) who mistakes them for hired assassins to kill his wife (voiced by none other than Demi Moore). Of course, he mistakenly uses the phrase "do my wife," which to B & B immediately means sex.
"Hey, Beavis," Butthead proclaims, "this guy is gonna pay us $10,000 to have sex with his wife. We're finally gonna score."
This sets them off on a cross-country odyssey which includes a plane trip, a trip to the Grand Canyon, a Las Vegas casino, two bus tours (one filled with senior citizens and the other filled with nuns), a tour of the White House, and several instances when Beavis has too much caffeine, letting loose his alter-ego "Cornholio." The whole time they are being trailed by an FBI agent obsessed with body cavity searches (voiced by Robert Stack, of "Unsolved Mysteries") who thinks they are international terrorists. Stack's overly serious Agent Flemming is one of the highlights of the movie, even though most of his lines are at the basement of bathroom humor ("I want you to give him a body cavity search so deep that you feel the back of his teeth!").
As a movie, "Beavis and Butthead Do America" is much better than I expected. It maintains a high level of humor by branching out as much as possible. It understands that B & B sitting in their living room might get a little tiresome, so it changes locales as much as possible. It milks many a laugh from other sources, including the FBI's mishaps, the cruel fate that is so often visited on B & B's poor neighbor Mr. Anderson, and a wide range of social topics, from prostitutes to the U.S. educational system. One of the funniest scenes is B & B's long-haired, hippie liberal teacher singing "Lesbian Seagull." It's not the song itself that's so funny, but his earnestness that this is an important song with meaning.
Beavis and Butthead are best when they are reflected in society as a whole. At their base, they are pure social satire -- unparented kids who grew up with Western society's surrogate parent, the TV. They view everything through the narrow prism of a TV screen, which is how advertisers and Hollywood producers want us to see the world. Therefore, they are the twisted result of society's own misguidance.
Of course, that's all academic. Beavis and Butthead are ultimately funny because they really exist. There's a pair of B & B's in every classroom in every school in America, laughing hysterically at the word "boobs" and trying to figure out the quickest way to burn things. And, someday, these kids will be running the country.
And I thought Bill Clinton was scary.
©1997 James Kendrick