That’s Adequate (1989)

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Bruce Willis, Robert Downey Jr, Ben Stiller.

The initially surprising thing about this movie is, with the above guys in it, plus a cast absolutely packed with stars and other well-known names, is how difficult it is to find. TV showings seem non-existent and it’s never been released on blu-ray or DVD, meaning we lovers of the offbeat have to track it down via VHS or less-than-legal means (which still means a battered 25-year-old VHS transfer). Information is very scarce about it, too, meaning the reason for this lack of availability may forever remain a mystery – is it in some sort of legal limbo? Does the company that own the rights to it not exist any more? Did one of its stars buy the rights to it and ensure it was never seen again?

Sketch comedy films are relatively recent. Although the trend seems to have been started with Monty Python and 1971’s “And Now For Something Completely Different”, the majority of them aren’t based on a previously existing TV property but are just new things – to name a few, “Kentucky Fried Movie”, “Amazon Women On The Moon” and more recently, “Movie 43”. The last one was put together by one of the Farrelly brothers calling in all his Hollywood favours, and if I had to guess I’d suggest that’s how this one was made too. Like, they sent a camera to wherever Bruce Willis was filming at the time, gave him a few lines and just filmed him for 20 minutes.

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“That’s Adequate!” is based on the fake Adequate Films, a bottom-of-the-barrel company who produced garbage for 60 years. There’s a host who takes us through it all, an ongoing interview with the head of Adequate, and then lots of clips from their films and TV shows. As with most sketch movies, the quality of these varies wildly – “Einstein On The Bounty”, starring Robert Downey Jr, is hilarious, but some of the repurposed public domain footage is weak, as they really do nothing other than dub swearing on top of it, or edit it so it looks like Abraham Lincoln is fighting robots and has a team of hawkmen. The linking interview is weird in that it’s obviously mostly improvised and every now and again, one of the two men will just stonewall a leading question. Reshoots, people!

There a couple of really good bits, though. “The Phallus Follies of 1945” is so odd that it almost forces you to laugh, and I liked the silent romance star who carried on even after he was dead. Robert Vaughn made a funny Hitler. And Richard Lewis as comedian-turned-actor Pimples Lapedes gave it his all too. So there’s plenty to like, but the problem is that it’s just not strong enough. It feels a little bit like a movie created for the 80th birthday of a Hollywood bigshot, with all his friends and stars from down the years doing their bit, without needing to be especially funny; and I feel if I’d seen it at the time, a lot of the references would have appeared fresher, or at least 25 years less old.

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Still, if you can find it, it’s a fascinating curio and is worth popping on for 80 minutes. See if you can think of the reason it’s so completely disappeared from public view.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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