From plaid to worse

Movie: Superstar

Length: 1 hour, 22 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: 1999-10-08
Cast: Molly Shannon, Will Ferrell
Director: Bruce McCulloch
Screenwriter: Steven Wayne Koren
Music Score: Michael Gore
WorkNameSort: Superstar
Our Rating: 2.50

Blame it on Lorne Michaels' brilliant ability to sell used goods. Or maybe it's the fault of gullible studio executive full of fond memories of "Saturday Night Live" seasons of yore, who continue to listen to their hearts rather than pay attention to the warning signals that should be flashing in their brains. Read my lips: "Saturday Night Live" sketches, with the notable exception of the "Wayne's World" movies, do not successfully make the transition to the big screen. On TV, they're short and sweet, lasting just long enough to leave us wanting more. Why tinker with success?

Michaels (longtime producer of "SNL") and others have nevertheless tried, with notoriously abysmal results. The most recent failure was "A Night at the Roxbury"; before that, we were treated to 1993's "Coneheads" (which, oddly, showed up more than a decade after the skit had disappeared), 1994's embarrassing "It's Pat: The Movie" and the same year's only slightly more tolerable "Stuart Saves His Family."

The current groundswell of nostalgia for the late-night comedy show -- which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with a long, indulgent prime-time special -- may well give a boost to "Superstar," a film based on the wacky Irish Catholic schoolgirl character created by talented comedienne Molly Shannon.

Bad word-of-mouth, though, could kill the momentum. The Michaels-produced "Superstar," it's painful to report, is as mediocre as so many of its "SNL" predecessors, with a few deliciously twisted bits by Shannon buried among the rubble of vastly inferior material.

Shannon is Mary Katherine Gallagher, a hopelessly klutzy nerdnik in horn-rimmed glasses, a trademark red hairband and a plaid skirt that's inappropriately short. Mary Katherine has some bad habits: When nervous, she presses her hands against her underarms and then checks her fingers for the odor. The loveless lass also has a penchant for showing off her white cotton underpants, and tends to use trees and poles for make-out practice. It's funnier than it sounds.

Employed as the "rewind girl" at her local video store, Mary Katherine has but a single goal in life. She hopes to one day lock lips with Sky, the smug Big Man on Campus and snazzy dancer played by fellow "SNL" cast member Will Ferrell. Her identity as a social outcast, and the presence of Sky's sexy girlfriend, Evian (Elaine Hendrix), are but two of the obstacles in her path as she hurtles toward her date with destiny.

Our heroine -- who's prone to spouting juicy monologues from made-for-television movies ("Sybil," "Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold," "The Initiation of Sarah") at just the wrong moments -- figures there's only one way to hook up with Sky: She must transform herself into the superstar she's always dreamed of becoming.

Thus, she must audition for the "Let's Fight Venereal Disease" talent contest sponsored by Catholic Teenager magazine. The winner will fly to Hollywood and play a role in a movie promoting "positive moral values." This concept, sort of a play on ancient George Carlin jokes, is NOT as funny as it sounds.

Mary Katherine eventually enlists her grandma, an old-time Broadway hoofer played by veteran thespian Glynis Johns, to help choreograph a show that will also feature the girl's misfit friends in ancillary roles. The silly conclusion includes a giddy song-and-dance number that's stuffed with routines straight out of Busby Berkeley musicals.

Getting there is only partially enjoyable, with low-key comic complications created by a strange, persistent and silent suitor (Harland Williams) and the vision of a hippie-slacker Jesus, also played by Ferrell. This incarnation of the divinity brags that "Spirit in the Sky" was written in his honor, and offers these words of advice to the doubting Mary Katherine: "Get jiggy with it. Go with the Godly flow."

There's a message in there somewhere, but I'm not sure it's worth seeking out.


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