Retro Review: Silence of the Hams
You’ve probably seen image threads about hilariously bad knock-off toys, like Superman with his S backwards or Batman with a mustache, trying to fool some poor kid’s grandma that this monstrosity from Bangladesh is what their adorable tot is hoping to see come Christmas morning. Well the same practice holds true for movies sometimes. It’s often hard to tell a lovingly made spoof movie from a tedious cash grab rip-off (pro-tip, if it has a Wayans brother in it, it is the cash grab every time.) For every Airplane! or Naked Gun, we get a dozen Scary Movies trying to steal our money, and our soul.
Before Shawn and Marlon Wayans made us dread the *Insert Genre* Movie genre, there was Ezio Greggio (who himself sounds like a cheap knock-off department brand of rayon shirts,) who attempted to cash in on the horror movie genre with his dubious parody, Silence of the Hams. Starring Billy Zane, Dom DeLuise, and even featuring cameos from Mel Brooks and John Astin, this film looks like the real deal, a comedy with loads of comedic firepower and a treasure trove of material to riff on. So how did it all go so wrong?
Silence of the Hams (1994)
Jo Dee Fostar (Billy Zane) is a young recruit for the FBI assigned a whooper of a first case: consult with famous psychiatrist and homicidal pizzeria owner, Dr. Animal Cannibal (yes, they could literally not think of a better spoof name for either character) and get his help in solving a series of murders occurring near the Cemetery Motel (a Bates motel knock-off, once again named by a brain dead child.)
The first 30 minutes meander about trying to throw at joke at your eyes based on literally every news-worthy event of the early 90’s. Rodney King and the LA riots, the Chicago Bulls, Bill Clinton versus George Bush Sr., California earthquakes…its like Greggio learned about American culture by doing research in a check-out line. The jokes are flat, and usually offensive. Finally we get to the FBI office, where the jokes stop being offensive and topical, and just stick to being bad. Ripping off the accident prone Nordberg character from the Naked Gun, Jo’s supervisor is mauled about a half dozen times in five minutes, never in an amusing manner. Jo gets his assignment from his captain, who exists just to make fat people jokes and fart jokes, and is off to see Dr. Animal. At this point in the viewing, I was about ready to call it a day and just loop a video of kittens being murdered, since it conveys the feel of the film with greater subtlety and style than any written description.
Pizza the Hut.
Luckily, once Jo gets to the sanitarium, Dom DeLuise is able to make the film bearable. As both a pastiche of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal, and as a riotously funny guy in his own right, DeLuise manages to pull me in off the ledge and keep me watching. By the time the scene is over, I am starting to feel optimistic about this movie again.
The next segment has Jo’s fiance, Jane, stealing money from her employer and hiding out in the Cemetery Motel, introducing us to Ezio Greggio himself, playing a Norman Bates character. Greggio is funny the way the class clown in high school is funny, making obvious puns, pulling faces, and relying on misdirection to score cheap laughs. This ends up being fairly amusing, compared to the earlier jokes. Picking apart Hitchcock is much more Greggio’s speed than aping American current events, so Silence of the Hams manages to move along with some decent laughs. And then the FBI shows up again…
It’s no Police Squad.
The crime drama aspect of the Silence of the Hams is routinely unfunny. Billy Zane can sell a good joke, but he is so rarely given a good joke that he ends up just kind of standing around, being inoffensively handsome. The plot bogs down in the stolen money/mass murderer case/Hitchcock send-up story lines, splitting up your time without much return on investment. Whereas Naked Gun told a crime story peppered with winks and nods to other films, Greggio wants to spend five minutes on each film, proving how many movies he can do a lame joke on, and ends up just wandering to and fro till eventually he runs out of shtick and gets back to the main story. I was opening the window to get back out onto the ledge, when suddenly the film got its second lucky break: John Astin.
Short, Dark and Funny.
John Astin (The Addams Family, Adventures of Brisco County Junior) makes any room he’s in seem like the ball pit at a Chucky Cheese. The man is what fun would look like if it had a bitchin’ mustache and googly eyes. His two scenes are complete throw aways, but he has so much fun in them, and obviously has the other actors about to break out in giggles, that it lightens the whole tired mess up by about ten shades of dull. I found myself wishing that instead of watching this film where John Astin cracks half-baked jokes in a bowling alley, that I was instead in a bowling alley with John Astin. You know, just hanging out. Probably talking about how fun it was to work with Bruce Campbell. And bowling. Ah, dreams…
Can I take this order to go?
The problem with Ezio Greggio’s tortured tour through horror movies/90’s current events is that it all feels so labored and dull. You’d think so much material to work with would make Silence of the Hams move at a million miles an hour, zipping from one reference to the next. Nope. Greggio patiently sets up each joke with about an hour of unfunny plotting, just to make a fart joke, racist stereotype, or bad pun. He has obviously become enamored with The Naked Gun and Hitchcock, but can’t seem to make the leap from one to the other without tedious set-ups.
Dom DeLuise is a dynamo of manic mania, John Astin is a god-send of good-natured likeability, and Billy Zane is charming and funny whenever he is in a room with either of them…and yet 70% of the film throws this dynamic out the window to make Bill Clinton jokes. A wasted effort, that is genuinely funny in places, but only makes you more frustrated that such moments are so damn rare.