September 29, 2009
The two, almost-funny moments in “The Informant!” – Hollywood’s comedic treatment of the deadly serious, 1995 price fixing scandal at Archer Daniels Midland – failed to amuse the 60 or so viewers sharing the theater with the lovely Catherine and me Sept. 20. Both passed with nary an audible laugh, guffaw or snort.
That’s funny because each involved a roll-on-the-floor-funny Smothers Brother.
Yep, Tommy and Dick Smothers, those banjo- and bass-playing masters of leftist one-liners, appear at critical junctures in the laughably unfunny film and, to my surprise, no one laughed.
First up is Tommy in a spot-on portrayal of a defiant Dwayne O. Andreas, boss of all ADM price fixers and daddy to later-convicted, everyday price fixer Michael “Mick” Andreas.
What’s funny about Tommy portraying DOA is that while they mildly resemble each other, the two couldn’t be more wildly different.
In fact, the two Smothers spent the late 1960s carpet-bombing presidents Johnson and Nixon with antiwar satire every Sunday night on CBS while flag-waving Andreas was earning buckets of dough, some of which was secretly and illegally funneled ($100,000 of thought-to-be untraceable cash) to Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign.
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The irony of this is, well, almost knee-slapping.
In mid-1969, Tommy and Dick were targeted by Nixon and CBS as anti-American and their top-rated show was abruptly canceled.
Dwayne, however, marched on to become an honored agbiz master of the universe who – despite his well-documented political fumbles while ruling the company that admitted to the largest price-fixing scandal in American history at the time – now has a law school, Barry University’s Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law, named after him.
Now that’s funny.
Adding to this jocularity is Dick Smothers portrayal of the very straight, very sober federal judge who threw the sentencing book at ADM wunderkind Mark Whitacre after Whitacre admitted to committing dozens of crimes while working as an FBI informant to gather evidence that hung the company and two of its executives.
Classic Hollywood, eh? Up is down, down is up and fact always plays second banana to fiction.
In the film, Whitacre, played by mega-bankable mega-star Matt Damon, babbles inanities to himself when alone about ink pens, Japanese underwear, and shrimp. It’s meant to portray the whistleblower as some silly, eccentric genius better suited for a local park bench than an ADM executive suite.
At other times, usually in the presence of others, Damon often plays the biochemist as an over-caffeinated, arm-waving, lying loudmouth.
Both are Hollywood affectations that seek to turn the quiet – Whitacre’s voice, now as then, rarely rises above that of a stage whisper – scientist into an off-the-shelf nutty professor. Matt Damon aka Mark Whitacre aka Jerry Lewis?
Right, and both devices fall flat – without breaking any funny bones.
But don’t take my word for it. Audiences who watched the film in the three days after its Sept. 18 release agree. By Sept 21, 734 reviews of it on fandango.com, a movie website, gave it an average 3 out of 5 rating, a lukewarm kiss of death for filmdom’s prized buzz, baby.
What’s more important than the film’s reviews, acting or inside jokes, however, is the truth, and the truth is that there’s nothing funny about “The Informant!” because there’s nothing funny about price fixing.
The film swiftly sinks because no one in the movie audience or, in fact, the world, thinks cheating millions of consumers out of billions of dollars is funny. Not even Hollywood has enough lipstick to make that ugly pig pretty.
So save your movie money for when the film is released on DVD. That way, at least, you’ll be in your easy chair when you fall asleep.