The show has been on for over thirty years now, and it's never re-captured the level of outright hilarity of the early years. Oh, there have been some great casts along the way. The Eddie Murphy-Joe Piscopo years had their moments, with running sketches that included Murphy's "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood" and Piscopo's spot-on Sinatra impressions. The cast that featured Phil Hartman, Mike Myers and Dana Carvey was probably the second-best ever, and the Sandler-Spade-Farley group was hilarious as well. But the last several line-ups have been, more often than not, painful to watch. For better or worse, though, Saturday Night Live will always be the standard by which all sketch comedy is judged.
As great as the show was, the actors have proven time and again that what works as a ten-minute skit does not necessarily translate into a good movie. Many have tried, but only two films with SNL roots, the Myers-Carvey film Wayne's World and the original Blues Brothers, would be considered good movies by reasonable viewers . The failures, which far outweigh the successes, include:
The Coneheads: The Coneheads were among the most popular and beloved characters ever to appear on Saturday Night Live. Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, and Laraine Newman starred as Beldar, Prymatt, and Connie Conehead, immigrants from "France". The sketches were hilarious. But the characters' quirks and personalities wore thin over the course of a 90-minute movie, and the result was an embarrassing bastardization of one of the best SNL ideas ever.
It's Pat: Even on SNL, Julia Sweeney's androgynous character was a one-joke wonder. "Pat" would be surrounded by friends, co-workers, and acquaintances who would try to figure out (but never ask) whether Pat was a man or a woman. The sketches were reasonably funny, especially considering that Sweeney made no attempt to make Pat remotely likable. He/She drooled, hacked up mucus, and whined his/her way through each situation. Why anyone thought that the public would pay money to watch over an hour of this is one of the entertainment industry's great mysteries.
Superstar: To her credit, Molly Shannon made a valiant effort to create a character even more repulsive than the aforementioned Pat. Mary Catherine Gallagher, an outcast Catholic school girl, had two defining characteristics: unbelievable clumsiness and the habit of jamming her hands in her armpits and then smelling them. This was painful to watch as a five-minute skit, let alone a full-length movie. I, of course, didn't actually watch the movie, but I did watch the Oscars and since no mention was made of this film, I'll just assume that it sucked monkey ass.
A Night at the Roxbury: This is an entire movie based on head-bobbing. Granted, other movies have succeeded with this formula, but they're all pornos, not main-stream comedy. Besides, this flick can be summed up in six words: "Starring Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan". It was destined for floptitude.
Curiously, the stars of Saturday Night Live themselves only had marginal success in the film industry, and almost NEVER when asked to carry a film on their own. This is disappointing to me because everyone I'm going to list here was absolutely brilliant in the context of SNL. I'm not going to bother with those who were worthless even on the show (I'm looking at YOU, Chris Kattan).
Let's hand out some report card grades, shall we?
Bill Murray: He carried Groundhog Day, and was outstanding as part of a larger cast in Caddyshack and Ghostbusters. He's made a few clunkers (Scrooged and What About Bob? come to mind), but overall his body of work is solid. Grade: B
Adam Sandler: While I'm not a particular fan of his early work (Little Nicky and Billy Madison, in my opinion, stunk), his recent efforts are terrific. The Wedding Singer is probably his best, but Happy Gilmore and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry are pretty good also. Grade: A
Mike Myers: Other than So I Married an Axe Murderer, Myers's resume is probably the most impressive of any former SNL'er. The Austin Powers series, Wayne's World, and his voice work in Shrek are all top-notch. He also seems like a decent enough guy, which helps. Grade: A
Eddie Murphy: I wish this guy had just quit while he was ahead. Trading Places, 48 Hours, and Beverly Hills Cop were classics. But it's been downhill ever since. Coming to America, Bowfinger, Daddy Day Care, any movie where he plays fourteen different roles, they're all pure horseshit. Axel Foley, we miss you. Grade: Pre-1990, A+; Post 1990: D-
Chevy Chase: Other than Vacation, depending on your opinion of The Three Amigos, most of Chevy's work has been pretty awful. Fletch is marginal, and movies like Funny Farm and Cops and Robbersons are simply abysmal. Grade: C (because I loved Vacation)
David Spade: Spade is pretty much a one-trick pony, but that one-trick can be pretty funny. He's at his best as the cynical and sarcastic buddy, as fans of Tommy Boy and Black Sheep will be quick to point out. Even his lead role in Dickie Roberts, Child Star was surprisingly enjoyable. He's never risen to greatness, but I'm hard-pressed to think of a movie that he was terrible in. Grade: C+
Chris Farley: See "David Spade", except Farley was the lovable buffoon. Still, Beverly Hills Ninja was an abomination. But whenever I think of Chris Farley, I think of Matt Foley living in a van down by the river, and it makes me laugh. Grade: C
Will Ferrell: If I had my way, Ferrell would be banned from ever appearing in another movie. I'm convinced that he's on a mission to make every one of his movies even worse than the one that preceded it. After watching the first fifteen minutes of Step Brothers, I promised myself that I'll never watch anything else this guy appears in. Talladega Nights, Anchorman, that basketball one, it's just one pile of shit after another. I'd rather spend two hours French kissing Mary Catherine Gallagher. Grade: F- and a kick in the balls.
Rob Schneider: At least Schneider is reasonably funny as a minor player in Adam Sandler movies. But come on, anyone who starred in a movie entitled Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo (and a sequel, for God's sake), can't be taken seriously. Grade: F
Dana Carvey: I love Carvey, I really do. The Church Lady, Wayne's pal Garth, his SNL work is terrific. But his foray into movies, and I can only think of Master of Disguise and Opportunity Knocks, has been woeful. Never has a nicer guy been so unwatchable. Grade: D