Talk about showmanship! One of the distinctions co-directors Chris LaMont and Steve Bencich are claiming, probably accurately, for their comedy The Best Movie Ever Made is "the largest mime scene in motion-picture history." Indeed, the all-mime parody of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is one of the highlights of this mlange of zany blackouts. LaMont and Bencich, local lads in their 20s, shot their feature-length sketch comedy entirely on location in the Valley. They did it on a budget that the word "shoestring" would exaggerate--it's more like the-plastic-thing-at-the-end-of-a-shoestring budget. (It was shot, for instance, on high-grade videotape.) The picture receives its world premiäre with two evening shows on Thursday, January 26, at Harkins Camelview 5 in Scottsdale.
The linking conceit of The Best Movie Ever Made, which is in the broad, corny tradition of John Landis' Kentucky Fried Movie, is that we're seeing 90 minutes' worth of channel-surfing. The movie is wound around a central sketch, a space-opera parody titled Battle for the Planet of Cheese. This segment manages to poke fun, la Spaceballs, at virtually every major space movie of the past two decades, from Star Wars to Aliens to David Lynch's Dune. Other sketches lampoon game shows, chop-socky films, medical shows and--perhaps best of all--televised sports. Out of LaMont and Bencich's enormous dramatis personae--dozens of speaking roles, hundreds of extras--the closest The Best Movie Ever Made has to a star is John King, who comes across with ease and unforced charisma. The rest of the cast consists of some professional actors and some enthusiastic amateur flakes, and from both camps there are bits of entertaining foolishness. The performers are all local, with one exception. LaMont and Bencich's de rigueur name player is one of the major good sports of postboomer show biz, Adam West (TV's Batman). He turns up for the briefest of cameos as the host of an infomercial spoof in return for a plug of his book, Back to the Batcave.
By way of disclaimer, I must confess that I appear, briefly, in The Best Movie Ever Made. The role gave me the opportunity to see LaMont and Bencich in action as moviemakers. One day last summer, they were shooting "the largest mime scene in motion-picture history" in Papago Park, marshaling hundreds of extras playing the (silently) cheering inhabitants of the Planet of the Mimes at an intergalactic combat.
LaMont and Bencich learned their trade with an award-winning cable-access show, TV or Not TV, and the speed with which they worked was extraordinary. No film-school fussiness for them--racing the clock and the makeup-melting desert sun, they managed at least six camera setups in about an hour. This is impressive by any movie-production standard--MGM's or Ed Wood's.
Impecuniousness explains one of the picture's more bizarre sets. To the casual viewer, it may seem odd that four interstellar bigwigs have an urgent, high-level conference (most of it Abbott and Costello-style word play) in a bustling diner. The explanation is simple and, as usual with LaMont and Bencich, practical--the scene was shot at CJS Studios in the remote west Valley, on a set left over from a Rax commercial.
I had firsthand experience with the budget restrictions myself. For the sake of economy, the studio's air conditioners were not turned on, and my character wore a heavy ceremonial uniform. Since he was seen only from the waist up, I delivered my stentorian lines to the camera in, topside, Napoleonic dress and, lower deck, jockey shorts and loafers. The stablehands tending the horses for the standing Western set kept wandering into the studio, looking at me very suspiciously. But the final product, while far from the best movie ever made, is surprisingly decent. The humor is unsophisticated, sometimes crude and sophomoric, but often quite funny. And the skits are more pointed and intelligible than most of those on any given recent episode of Saturday Night Live.--The Best Movie Ever Made: Directed by Chris LaMont and Steve Bencich; with John King, Nelly Kohsok, Timothy Reader, David Gofstein, Meesha Leblond, Keith Wick, Owen Kerr and Adam West. Unrated.