Film Reviews

Cool Jerks

Western civilization has taken its fair share of direct hits over the ages, but never has it been threatened with destruction by such markedly unempowered foes as Beavis and Butt-head, which debuted on MTV in 1993. How unempowered? Consider that those who most rightfully should be offended by the doltish duo--namely, stupid white-trash teenaged boys--are too dimwitted to rise up and protest the unflattering stereotypes of them depicted in the notorious TV series.

Now Beavis and Butt-head have risen to the rank of celluloid stars. And it will no doubt strike many as something of a sorry statement on Hollywood that Beavis and Butt-head Do America is one of the most flat-out funny American comedies of 1996. (Further cause for wonder: That among B & B and the other delirious yuk fests of the year--Fargo, Flirting With Disaster, Bottle Rocket and Mars Attacks!--only Flirting With Disaster is not strewn wall-to-wall with abject cretins.)

To some, Beavis and Butt-head are those imbeciles responsible for inspiring a generation of kids to imitate their annoying chortles, or those intellectually stunted pyromaniacs who do and say mean and stupid things and never learn their lesson. Meanwhile, others, including series creator Mike Judge, the film's co-writer and director, have encountered a Beavis or a Butt-head in real life and recognized that the famed dimwits are a pristine reflection of a scarily pervasive subculture only cockeyed optimists would refuse to acknowledge exists. Beavis and Butt-head's appeal lies in the fact that it has absorbed--so very poorly--television and pop culture; it reflects those values in a fractured way, yet with a perverse purity that should frighten and disturb those who define those cultures. That, and it makes a lot of fart and jerk-off jokes.

As is often said of movies based on plays, Do America "opens up" Beavis and Butt-head's rather restricted world of their sofa, school and the ptomaine-fest fast-food joint from which they're routinely fired. The film opens with an only nominally amusing dream sequence before segueing into its titles, played against a clever amalgam of Aaron Spellingesque '70s cop show and blaxploitation film cliches. The story that follows is characteristically rickety: Beavis and Butt-head, discovering their TV stolen, try to find it or a suitable replacement, and thereby stumble upon a drunken redneck (voiced, with no credit, by Bruce Willis) who hires them to "do" his opportunistic, sleazoid wife (Demi Moore, also uncredited) in Las Vegas. They, of course, get the wrong idea of what he means by "do."

In Vegas, the wife offers them twice as much money to "do" her husband (Beavis considers the proposition, momentarily), and they're soon made witless accomplices in an international intrigue, pursued with maniacal zeal by an ATF agent (Robert Stack) with a righteous predilection for cavity searches. They bop fecklessly around the country (at the Grand Canyon, they're distracted from the awesome scenic vistas by their preoccupation with the scatological), and end up in Washington, D.C., where they still hope against hope to score (Butt-head comes on to the hapless Chelsea Clinton). Beavis commandeers the congressional public address system, and his puerile pronouncement inspires the entire House to join in a familiar chuckle (so that's what becomes of their kind when they grow up).

Beavis and Butt-head's value system remains endearingly and relentlessly misdirected. Even when they're about to perish of exposure in the desert ("The sun sucks," Butt-head grouses), they can be distracted from their impending doom by a couple of vultures doing it (see related story). If you don't get them, just chalk this off as another blow to the Republic and keep storing your firearms in your fallout shelter.

Beavis and Butt-head Do America
Directed by Mike Judge.