Lorne Michaels may be best known as the producer of Saturday Night Live, but to me his greater achievement was producing the Canadian sketch comedy show The Kids in the Hall. The Kids – Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney,and Scott Thompson – took the sketch TV style pioneered by Monty Python and gave it a bizarre early 90’s twist. Like the Pythons before them, they eventually made the leap to the big screen in 1996’s Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy.
The film concerns a team of scientists, led by Doctor Chris Cooper (McDonald), who work for a struggling pharmaceuticals company. They are in the early stages of developing a powerful antidepressant that causes people to essentially relive their happiest memory. Things look promising but more testing is needed. Problem is, the head of the company, Don Roritor (McKinney) is desperate for a new product to save the company. Faced with possibly losing his job, Dr. Cooper tells Don that the drug is ready and it is rushed into production.
Many people are prescribed the drug and it quickly becomes a huge hit…even beating penicillin on the drug charts. We see many characters who find new happiness thanks to the drug. This includes a sad old woman whose family ignores her (Thompson), a suburban husband and father who struggles to keep his homosexuality a secret (Thompson again), and a moody grunge singer who soon starts turning out bubble gum pop hits (McCulloch). Trouble soon hits, though, when users of the drug begin to slip into comas…trapped within their memories.
Pretty much all the major roles in the film are played by the five members of the troupe…both males and females. Like Monty Python, they also served as the writers, with the exception of Dave Foley who had commitments to the series NewsRadio at the time the film was being written (he also plays a smaller number of roles in the film). Unlike most of the Python films, Brain Candy actually has a fairly structured story.
While all of the Kids have their moments to shine, the highlight of the film is Mark McKinney as company head Don Roritor. It is no secret that his delivery is modeled after Lorne Michaels. The character is just so hilariously self-absorbed. You’ve got to give Michaels some credit for having a sense of humor about himself. Mckinney’s scene as a ridiculous female talk show host is also hilarious.
There are some moments that are not so strong, the biggest one for me is the subplot involving Thompson’s closeted gay character. Homosexual characters often showed up on The Kids in the Hall TV show. In this particular case, though, this part of the story really feels tacked on. When the character goes on the drug he launches into a musical number proclaiming “I’m gay!” and marches down his suburban street with other neighbors joining in.. The song itself is uninspired and the production number that goes along with it I can only describe as half-baked. The better musical moment is McCulloch’s flower child-ish ditty “Happiness Pie.” It features several of the film’s unique characters floating through a blue sky with fluffy clouds before diving into a giant pie.
Despite a few weaknesses, The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy is a very funny movie. A few gags fizzle, there are moments of questionable taste (Hello…Cancer Boy!), but for the most part you get to see a group of very skilled comedy performers do what they do best. Gotta love those crazy Canadians!