Classic Intel: Drop Dead Fred - DVD Review

 'De Jong clearly wants to make a movie for children, but comprehensively fails to marry that approach with the serious undertones Drop Dead Fred inherently contains'.

The sudden death of Rik Mayall in June this year inspired many (including me) to take a fond look back at the actor and comedian's body of work over the years. Whilst Mayall undoubtedly made his presence felt on the small screen in the likes of acclaimed sitcoms including The Young Ones, Bottom and Blackadder, his career in cinema never took off in the same way. It's a fact that undoubtedly would have been eradicated had his turn as Peeves the poltergeist in the first Harry Potter film not been cut completely from the finished film, and subsequently the entire franchise. In truth, Mayall's performance ten years earlier in Drop Dead Fred is probably the closest we'll ever get to knowing how he might have brought Peeves to life, unless the allegedly "lost" footage resurfaces as an extra on a Potter special edition at some point in the future.

Mayall is undoubtedly the star of Drop Dead Fred, instilling the title character with his infectious brand of frenetic, anarchic humour through a performance crammed with energy that even manages to make the script's patchier lines of dialogue work. Mayall fits the role superbly, providing an entertaining presence throughout whilst also performing well during the handful of more emotional scenes that Fred is given here and there.

Sadly, Mayall's strong lead turn is the only real positive within Drop Dead Fred, which comes across again and again as undercooked and confused. The rest of the cast range from average (Phoebe Cates) to embarrassing (Ron Eldard), with many of the scenes not involving Mayall feeling decidedly amateurish in their execution. Ate De Jong's direction is largely flat and uninspired - a late dream sequence is almost unwatchable - which probably accounts for him only ever making two further English language films during the 1990s, both of which have sunk without trace, before returning to his native Holland for the rest of his career.

De Jong fails to decides what type of film he wants Drop Dead Fred to be. The humour swings wildly from the tamely juvenile, with jokes about nose-picking and dog poo, to the unashamedly adult, such as Fred referring to Lizzie's (Cates) mother Polly (Marsha Mason) as "the mega-bitch" and looking up womens' skirts. The director also flip-flops with the film's fantasy nature: one minute Fred is imaginary, the next he's a real entity which only Lizzie can see, only to later become a symptom of psychological imbalance that can be cured. De Jong clearly wants to make a movie for children, but comprehensively fails to marry that approach with the serious undertones Drop Dead Fred inherently contains. One quite valid interpretation of the story is a young woman having a psychological breakdown after failing to deal with a series of challenging episodes in her life. There are several scenes linked to this view which are really quite uncomfortable to watch, especially through De Jong's lighthearted and comedic approach.

Mayall's most memorable big screen role sadly ends up as part of a largely disappointing and poorly executed film. Drop Dead Fred is worth a watch for Mayall's performance alone, as well as showing the largely untapped potential of the actor in big screen roles, but you're unlikely to find much more to like in this ill-judged and unmemorable film.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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