Before we get going, this entire review, and any future watching of this movie, ought to have a layer of sadness on top of it. Co-star Jack Nance (“Eraserhead”, “Twin Peaks”) married Kelly Jean Van Dyke (part of the acting Van Dyke family) in May 1991…actually, let’s hand this over to Wikipedia:
On November 17, 1991, Nance, who was in Bass Lake, California, filming Meatballs 4 at the time, called Van Dyke to end the relationship. He attempted to console her on the phone as she threatened suicide, telling Nance that if he hung up the phone, she would take her own life. At that point, a lightning storm knocked out the phone lines in Bass Lake.
In the pouring rain, Nance went to the nearby lodgings of the film’s director, Bobby Logan, seeking help. Logan recalls in I Don’t Know Jack, ‘He says, “I think my wife just killed herself.” Jack and I had a relationship on the set where we were always playing practical jokes on one another. I figured he was doing that to me. So I said, “Being married to you, who could blame her?” And when I said that, suddenly a little tear trickled down his cheek, and I realised it wasn’t the rain that had hit him in the face…'
With most of the phones in the area still out, it took Nance and Logan 45 minutes of driving around to find a deputy sheriff who contacted Los Angeles police and the apartment manager. They broke into her apartment and found that she had hanged herself.
Nance, who died himself in “suspicious circumstances” a few years later, will have filmed at least some of this movie while blaming himself for the death of his wife – there’s really no better introduction for a light-hearted summer-raunch movie about water-skiing!
“Meatballs 4” does not mess around. We get the fat nerd slapstick and a group of horny dudes spying on naked women in the shower in the first 8 minutes of the movie, then quickly discover, via him parachuting in holding a boombox, that Lakeside (Nance’s camp) has hired Ricky Wade (Corey Feldman) from Twin Oaks (the rich kids’ camp across the lake). A rich kids camp across the lake? Where do they get these insane ideas from? Next thing is, you’ll be telling me there’s some competition where winner takes all!
So, there’s a water competition. If Lakeside loses, Nance gives up the camp, if they win, Twin Oaks pays off his mortgage and leaves him alone forever. Feldman rubs up Lakeside’s best water-skier the wrong way, who then defects to Twin Oaks’ side; there’s romance with Nance’s granddaughter; and the fat comic relief guy Victor (who goes by the name “Johnny Cocktails”, despite being the brother of Greg Grunberg) inexplicably ends up with the insanely beautiful Asian eye candy, despite showing zero personality or anything else that might impress a person. The usual. That everyone at this camp appears to be in their mid 20s, and are the same age or older than the “camp counsellors”, is only like the fifth stupidest thing about this movie.
In 1992, Feldman was still Michael Jackson’s best friend, and while he doesn’t dress like him (as he did in the first “Dream A Little Dream”), what we do get is an extremely long Jacksonesque dance sequence, set to a song which is just different enough to “Black Or White” to avoid getting sued – best guess, Feldman just played that song on the set, and convinced the producers he’d be able to get the rights to it. One gets the feeling that several of Feldman’s sequences were him going to the director “seriously, let me do this, it’ll be brilliant”.
This film is a miserable failure, though, and not just because Nance was dealing with the death of his wife, and the director was dealing with a Michael Jackson-obsessed star. The jokes, if you can call them that, are unbearably lame, like the writer found a 50 year old “after dinner speech jokes” book and just used the worst ones from that. There’s a “pull my finger” joke to amuse the kids, too. The good guys win a tournament halfway through the movie, which makes absolutely no sense in terms of building drama for the ending. No-one wonders why Victor (the clumsy guy), who shows zero aptitude for water-skiiing, paid to go to a water-skiing camp.
The awfulness goes deeper, though. There’s an angry ex-lovers conversation between Feldman and Nance’s granddaughter, and it’s the worst-written thing I could possibly imagine being in a finished movie. Getting more technical, about half the movie is shot from underneath, as if the cameraman was only 4 feet tall, and the lighting is subdued and naturalistic. This might work better if it were a drama, but the thing about broad comedy is it needs to look a little cartoony – everything ought to be bright, and the camerawork ought to be as unobtrusive as possible, to not distract from the performances, where all the comedy should be.
This still isn’t the worst thing, though. The big ending centres around a “triple flip”, an almost impossible jump that only Nance, as a younger man, ever made. Feldman tries and fails, but then Nance is brought out of retirement to win it all with the last jump of the movie. They shoot this particular super-jump by…filming someone doing a single flip and just repeating the footage three times. WHAT? By the end of the first flip, he’s already on his way back down to earth…it’s just an insult to anyone who bothered spending money to see this movie. Heck, even the Triple Lindy from “Back To School”, performed by an elderly, grinning, not-taking-it-seriously Rodney Dangerfield, was better than this garbage.
So there we have it. If you’re following these reviews for some summer-movie recommendations, I’d probably watch parts 1 and 3 of the Meatballs franchise. 1 because it has Bill Murray in it, 3 because it’s one of the stupidest comedy movies ever. This is just an embarrassment.
Rating: thumbs down