In the 1920’s and 30’s there was a very popular series of musical films known as the Gold Diggers series. The original 1923 film, simply called Gold Diggers, is actually a lost film. Five more Gold Diggers films would follow, thankfully all of these still exist. None of those films, though, have anything whatsoever to do with the film we’re looking at today. Sorry, there’s no singing and dancing involved when it comes to the 2003 film, National Lampoon’s Gold Diggers.
The film centers on two down-on-their-luck pals, Calvin (Will Friedle) and Leonard (American Pie’s Chris Owen). After a number of crappy jobs, they have turned to crime. One day, they attempt to mug two elderly women…who take them down with some pepper spray and a taser. Now, the two ladies are sisters Betty (Renee Taylor) and Doris Mundt (Louise Lasser), heir’s to a condom company fortune. Sadly, their nasty Uncle Walt has stolen their trust fund and they are broke. So, they decide to not press charges against the boys so they can marry them, buy an insurance policy, and then murder them later to collect on cash. At the same time, they guys figure the women won’t live long, so they will marry them and inherit the fortune (which they don’t realize the women don’t really have) and live the high-life after their deaths.
So now, after some truly bizarre sex scenes between these two young guys and these sex-starved older women, the film follows both teams as they try to off each other. Each attempt ends up resulting in the death of some innocent bystander. Eventually, something strange starts to happen…Lenny and Doris actually start to fall in love for real. Soon, the two sides start to work together to bust in to Uncle Walt’s place and grab the dough.
National Lampoon’s Gold Diggers I think wins the prize for most misleading DVD box art ever. The cover features the two young male leads flanking bikini-clad model Nikki Ziering…also known as “that Playboy chick who married and divorced that 90210 guy.” There’s an even bigger picture of her on the back cover! So what does she have to do with this film? Well, she appears in a few scenes as the girl of Calvin’s dreams. She has absolutely no bearing on the actual plot of the film. She shows up for a few seconds to look good in a bikini and then disappears. I actually went back and timed how much screen time she gets. It clocked in at a little more than two and a half minutes. That gets you the place of prominence on the DVD cover IF you look good in a bikini…which she does.
The biggest problem with this film is that it is way too mean spirited to be funny. Our four main characters cause the poisoning death of the Japanese gardener, cause the plumber to slip in the shower and break his neck, and kill a next door neighbor by way of a rattlesnake bite to the nuts. Comedy gold there folks!?! When they aren’t trying to off somebody, the major focus of the film is the attempts of these two elderly women to make the two guys join the #MeToo movement. One particularly icky scene pretty much ruined the bubblegum classic “My Boy Lollipop” for me. None of these attempts at raunchy comedy are even remotely funny. Only the wedding scene managed a few legitimate laughs, courtesy of the preacher played by JJ Cole.
The one other slightly enjoyable aspect of the film is Louise Lasser. She’s a skilled comedic actress, but how on earth did she end up in a film like this? After all, in the world of Woody Allen films she was Diane Keaton before she was Mia Farrow. Lasser actually succeeds in bringing a bit a sweetness to the love story between her and Chris Owen’s character, but she can’t salvage the rest of this film. Her on-screen sister, Renee Taylor, puts in a shrill, ear-splitting performance that will make you want to scrape your armpits with a cheese grater. Meanwhile, the two male leads display all the charisma of your average kumquat.
I knew going in that this series on forgotten National Lampoon films was going to be no easy task, but I think I may have underestimated how bad these films could get. With the exception of a few fleeting moments from Louise Lasser, Gold Diggers is a joyless film. An ugly and mean movie with two and half minutes of bikini footage sprinkled here and there.