Control Nathan Rabin: Crazy Enough
When Jerry Lewis died recently at 91, he left behind an almost unfathomably complicated legacy in television, film, and live performance that combined joyous, inventive triumphs like Hollywood or Bust, Artists & Models, King of Comedy and The Bellboy with enduring humiliations like Hardly Working, Cracking Up and The Day the Clown Cried, which looms tantalizingly as the most exquisitely, transcendently terrible unreleased film ever made.
Lewis was one of the all-time greats as a movie star and physical comedian. Even he embarrassed himself trying to do slapstick deep into his forties and fifties. Slapstick is a young man’s game. There comes a point where a man-child bumbling his way through the world stops being funny (if it ever was in the first place) and becomes kind of sad.
Saturday Night Live funnyman Chris Kattan is many, many leagues beneath Jerry Lewis in the pantheon of cinematic physical comedians, to the point where I, like most people, assumed he yielded to the fervent wishes of the moviegoing public and stopped starring in movies after the world took a brief glimpse at his would-be star-making vehicle, 2001’s Corky Romano, and gave it a hard pass.
So I was surprised to see Kattan’s vaguely simian mug on the cover of 2013’s Crazy Enough not once but twice. The movie’s hypnotically terrible photo-shop job features a wild-eyed, crazy-haired, disheveled Kattan in a straightjacket, an outsized, vaguely ghoulish Joker smile on his unhinged face in the arms of a second Kattan, this one a carefully coiffed professional sporting a Doctor’s badge and a look that indelibly conveys, “Can you believe this craziness? Is it crazy enough for you?”
A poster like this sends out a powerful message. It tells a world that only vaguely remembers Kattan that they would have to be crazy to want to see something so obviously subpar. It sends a different message to me. To me, this poster gently whispers, “You must see this, Nathan. It is your destiny to see this motion picture and then share news of that experience with the world, so that others might be spared such torment yet have their morbid curiosity satiated all the same.”
So I decided to include Crazy Enough as one of the two options for Control Nathan Rabin, the column where I give the living saints who donate to this website’s Patreon page an opportunity to choose between which of two torments I must endure, then write about. I paired this with another late-period Kattan movie, 2009’s Hollywood & Wine, which has the benefit of a Hollywood setting (always a plus with me) and a cast that includes the likes of David Spade, Pam Anderson, Chazz Palminteri, Norm MacDonald, Horatio Sanz, Vivica A. Fox, David Spade and multiple Farley brothers (the surviving ones, unfortunately). Crazy Enough, in sharp contrast, stars Saturday Night Live funnyman Chris Kattan and a bunch of people whose career peaked with starring in a direct-to-video movie with a dude who used to be on Saturday Night Live.
You chose Crazy Enough, which casts Kattan in the dual role of Fred and Ted Mulberry, identical twins separated at birth and raised separately, without knowledge of each other’s existence. Fred is an uptight psychiatrist who toils for a corrupt politician named Philbrook who has a secret daughter he has locked away in a mental hospital against her will so that she won’t be able to, say, climactically humiliate him and destroy his political chances by outing him as a child-abandoning, denying and institutionalizing hypocrite while announcing his big run for governor.
The other brother is Ted, a lovable man-child with an intellectual age still hovering around the low teens who dreams of having a family and doing different jobs but seems destined to live out his remaining decades in a mental institution. The action kicks into low gear when Fred, whose wife is launching her artisanal granola business that very same day, is dispatched to the Fitzpatrick, the mental hospital that houses Ted to sign some “very important papers” without looking at them of course.
In an astonishingly plausible turn of events, a truck sends a wave of mud over Dr. Fred’s expensive suit and the embarrassed doc ducks into a mental hospital shower, as folks will do. At that very moment, Ted finds Dr. Fred’s wallet and clothes and ID badge and, after briefly expressing surprise that he apparently has an identical twin he doesn’t know about, steals the I.D and clothes and proceeds to take over Dr. Fred’s identity.
The gruff-but fair head nurse of the ward assumes that Dr. Fred is actually Ted and when he can’t remember his home number, he takes his identical twin brother’s place in the mental hospital. Being a mental patient makes Dr. Fred a better doctor and family man and helps him learn the important lesson of all bad-dad redemption comedies: it’s not enough to take your kids to school and tell your wife you love her and agree to do errands for her despite your own heavy work commitments: unless you devote every moment of every day to your wife and children, you are a piece of shit bad dad who deserved to turn into a goat or be mistaken for a mental patient or whatever nonsense these movies throw at their protagonists.
Ted may look exactly like his more professionally accomplished twin, but he of course acts nothing like him. Yet that somehow doesn’t keep everyone from accepting that this barely verbal, mentally challenged man-child is an uptight psychiatrist with a full and complicated and hectic personal and professional life.
Crazy Enough belongs to a curious subset of movies like What About Bob? or Captain Ron where a kooky or mentally challenged free spirit becomes a surrogate father figure to a family annoyed and underwhelmed by their uptight, un-fun actual father. The family has to know on every level that the 12 year old in an adult’s body is not their accomplished doctor father but this new guy seems more chill and is a lot more supportive, so everybody just kind of rolls with it. Ted is excited to finally have a family and job until it becomes narratively convenient for him to spill the beans.
What surprised me most about Crazy Enough, beyond the fact that I was watching a Chris Kattan vehicle made significantly after the turn of the millennium, was how weirdly devoid of jokes it is. It's weird enough that a movie with Chris Kattan in wacky dual roles as a doctor and mental patient is a comedy-drama rather than a lowbrow comedy. It's even weirder that the movie is much more drama than comedy.
Crazy Enough isn’t just not funny. It barely even attempts to be funny. The movie is perversely light on recognizable gags, perhaps because it didn’t want anything to detract from the drama, the emotions and the reality of a script notable primarily for its implausibility and complete lack of verisimilitude, emotional or otherwise.
Because Crazy Enough is not about jokes. Far from it. The premise, star and dual role might all scream “wacky physical comedy romp” but this is more of a character-based comedy, which wouldn’t be a problem if the characters weren’t all one-dimensional caricatures and if the film possessed any depth or substance at all, which it does not.
I didn’t just come to Crazy Enough as a failed former film critic somehow wholly unemployable in a field he toiled in for the last eighteen years. No, I’m also a former mental patient, having spent a kooky month at a nuthouse called Charter Barclay as a fourteen year old. So I can speak with some authority when I say that Crazy Enough’s depiction of mental house lacks a certain verisimilitude.
On a production design level alone, Crazy Enough is an incoherent nightmare. I yield to few in my love for American pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic and Rodney Dangerfield, yet they seem staggeringly out of place decorating the psychiatric institution’s walls via posters for Ladybugs, My 5 Wives (which I’m pretty sure went direct-to-video) and UHF.
Watching Crazy Enough is depressing but not as sad as these choice sections from Chris Kattan’s Wikipedia page:
*In February 2014, Kattan was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in Los Angeles after his car crossed a barrier of orange cones and flashing signs and plowed into the cushioned back of a maintenance vehicle, authorities said. Video later surfaced of Kattan having to be helped off an airplane that landed in Los Angeles just hours before his arrest. Kattan pled not guilty to the charges in March 2014 and was ordered by a judge to attend twelve-step program meetings.
*Kattan was to play Xanthias in the Broadway theatre production of Stephen Sondheim's The Frogs but he was replaced during previews by Roger Bart. Kattan was set to host the game show Gameshow In My Head and even filmed the pilot episode in Hollywood. However, he was replaced with Joe Rogan for the series.
*In 2017, Kattan was a contestant on season 24 of Dancing with the Stars paired with professional dancer Witney Carson. He was the first celebrity dancer eliminated.
Kattan’s IMDB does list one hit movie from the past decade. It’s Superbad (to go along with more expected credits like Delgo and Foodfight!) and, if you’re sensing a theme here, you might not be terribly surprised his part got deleted.
Now I have depicted Chris Kattan’s life and career as a little on the sad side. Crazy Enough is also sadder than it is funny, in the sense that it’s never intentionally funny but it’s always pretty sad, but I don’t want to be a Debby Downer or a Ned Negativity so I’m going to go out on a positive note and hail Kattan for winning the “Bonehead Award” for “Best Actor” at the 2013 Bare Bones Film & Music Festival for this very performance.
To be brutally honest, I’ve never actually heard of the Bare Bones Film & Music Festival, but if Kattan won something called the “Bonehead Award” I am certainly not one to question its legitimacy or prestige. So on the very rare chance that you someday think of Crazy Enough ever again, remember that it’s not just an incredibly dire-looking, convoluted late-period Chris Kattan flop. No, it’s an award-winning dire-looking, impossibly convoluted late-period Chris Kattan flop. There’s a big difference.
Support the Bonehead award-eligible Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace and help choose my next torment and get access to one patron-only Control Nathan Rabin a month; last month it was Corey Feldman on Wife Swap. This month it’s The Onion Movie