THE INDEPENDENT Image

THE INDEPENDENT

By Ron Wells | December 8, 2001

Now this is what I’m talking about right here. We need more films like THIS! The filmmaking team of Stephen Kessler and Mike Wilkins join Jerry Stiller and Janeane Garofalo to pay loving tribute to the world of exploitation films. Better yet, they do so by exploiting nearly every friend and family member they have.
We eventually meet Kessler himself as he shoots a documentary about legendary (and fictitious) filmmaker Morty Fineman (Stiller). He’s a little Roger Corman, a little Andy Sidaris, a little Ed Wood, and a whole lot of screaming. Morty has made 427 films since 1970, including such gems as “Cheerleader Camp Massacre”, “Christ for the Defense”, “World War III Part II”, and “Cage Full of Waitresses”.
Nearing the end of his career, Morty’s deeply in debt after a costly, ego-driven flop. His daughter, Paloma (Garofalo), might be able to save the company, but what he really needs is some sort of acknowledgement of his life’s work.
That description barely covers the surface. While crazy hijinx result from the efforts of Morty’s extended family to save the business, the real story is in the old man himself. Jerry Stiller has been zipping along quite well for the last few years, mainly portraying eccentric fathers, grandfathers, or uncles on the margins of television. Not here. Jerry has one of those career-defining parts. In the starring role, he inhabits Morty in what is basically a (very late) coming-of-age story. Decades of tunnel vision have prevented the filmmaker from appreciating those around him. At the start, he’s nearly estranged from both of his children (though the son is mainly P.O.’ed about a “Name That Baby” promotional contest at his birth. Morty unfortunately allowed the name to stick). Eventually, the great schlockmeister must appreciate what he has and stop acting like he’s still in his 20’s.
The rich, creamy, sugar-loaded frosting on this cake are the film clips. Scattered throughout the film are clips of the 427 motion picture extravaganzas. Always side-splitting, I’m sure you’ll recognize a few famous faces. The clips would still be meaningless without a solid film to hold them in place. Kessler’s previous directing assignment was “National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation”. Thankfully, he’s grown, due in no small part to a blazing Stiller. Who knew he still had it in him? Maybe now we can get a really good Stiller father-son flick.

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