Sign in to comment!

Menu
Home

Is There a 'Saturday Night Live' Curse?

Some call it the "SNL" curse.

No, not the one where all the cast members die young and tragically. It's the one that dooms former "Saturday Night Live" (search) comedians to star in what may be some of the worst movies ever made.

And that's not just the opinion of a few disgruntled late-night television viewers. Comedian Chris Rock (search) — himself a former "Saturday Night Live" star — has made his castmates' post-show woes into the butt of one of his jokes, proclaiming that an ex-"SNL" player's name on the opening credits often might as well be a stamp of mediocrity.

"I'm looking at some of the most overrated people in the history of comedy," Rock said at the 25th anniversary special of "Saturday Night Live." "Some of the worst movies ever made were made by people in this room."

There's a long tally of "SNL"-player movies that stank up cineplexes across America: "Corky Romano" with Chris Kattan; "Stuart Saves His Family" with Al Franken; "Superstar" with Molly Shannon; "Cabin Boy" with Chris Elliott; "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star" with David Spade (search) and Jon Lovitz; "Dirty Work" with Norm Macdonald; "The Ladies Man" with Tim Meadows; "It's Pat" with Julia Sweeney (search); "The Master of Disguise" with Dana Carvey (search); and "Taxi" with Jimmy Fallon (search).

"They're like the movies you make when you're right out of high school," former "SNL" writer Tom Schiller said. "It's the first bite these guys get out of the gate in Hollywood."

Even Will Ferrell (search), who could do no wrong only last year, came in No. 2 at the box office in May with the release of "Kicking and Screaming" (behind "Monster-in-Law"), and the buzz for "Bewitched," (search) which comes out this weekend, hasn't been kind.

And reviews of Adam Sandler's (search) recent remake of the Burt Reynolds flick "The Longest Yard" have critics wondering why it was ever remade at all.

"Let me preface this by saying that everyone makes bad movies, from Meryl Streep to Robert De Niro," said Richard Dorment, articles editor at Giant magazine.

"That being said, I think 'Taxi' was pretty horrible — though Jimmy Fallon still has momentum behind him and a lot of people in Hollywood believe in him, even though that and 'Fever Pitch' didn't take off at the box office," added Dorment.

"'A Night at the Roxbury,'" which starred Ferrell and Kattan, said Dorment, "was pretty awful. But 'It's Pat' may actually take the cake."

Some, like Schiller, who wrote the classic John Belushi "Samurai" skits, as well as the recurring "Bad Playhouse," blame Hollywood.

"It's the curse of Hollywood. Hollywood makes bad movies, generally speaking, and it's rare that you see something memorable that you love," said Schiller, who worked on "Saturday Night Live" from 1975 to 1980 and then again from 1989 to 1995.

"As soon as ['SNL' cast members] leave that show, they get immediately pumped into the maximum usage by the cannibals of Hollywood, and they squeeze the juice out of them."

Others point to a string of "SNL"-based flops that Lorne Michaels (search) seemingly couldn't expel fast enough after the unexpected success of "Wayne's World" in 1992, such as "Coneheads," which in 1993 resurrected the ancient skit originated by Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin.

Other Michaels-produced flicks of questionable value followed in relatively short order: 1993's disappointing "Wayne's World 2" with Mike Myers and Dana Carvey; "Tommy Boy," with Spade and Chris Farley; "Stuart Saves His Family" in 1995; "Black Sheep" with Farley and Spade in 1996; "Superstar" in 1999; and "The Ladies Man" in 2000.

With Michaels at the helm, "SNL" players in the lead roles and the base material often swiped directly from "Saturday Night Live" routines, the "SNL" seal was indelibly affixed on movies that were almost guaranteed snoozers.

"'Wayne's World' was a good idea — you had characters with comic chops with Mike Myers (search) and Dana Carvey, and the character was kind of malleable and had enough to go on," said Radar magazine Associate Editor Danielle Stein.

"The 'It's Pat' thing was kind of great for the quick joke and had enough to be a recurring joke, as it was on 'SNL' for a long time," she added, "but it's kind of the same joke, and to hear it over and over for two hours straight is just not right for that format."

"When it was successful for 'Wayne's World,'" Stein concluded, "I suspect they had a 'Why not? Let's try it' attitude."

In the case of many of the direct-from-"SNL" movies, the stars were forced to work with material that had already been stretched dangerously thin, theorizes Syracuse University professor of popular culture Robert Thompson.

"In most cases, these things were getting pretty worn out as sketches," he said. "'SNL' is as good as anybody at squeezing every last drop out of a skit, those cheerleaders (Ferrell and Cheri Oteri) being a good example of that. So part of it is that a lot of them get their first movies based on sketches that may be a little lame."

"Once in a while, in these 'SNL' skits," said Stein, "there's a diamond in the rough that can become a recurring character, that has the heft to be successful on the screen."

"Most of the time, a skit is good for just that," she added. "To turn that into a movie is, eight times out of 10, a bad idea."

But any fair assessment of former "SNL" players' silver-screen success has to weigh in their favor, observers said.

After all, it helped launch the successful careers of legends such as Belushi, Aykroyd, Myers, Sandler, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Phil Hartman, frequent guest Steve Martin and Chris Rock himself.

In fact, it was the phenomenal success of Belushi's "Animal House" and Murray's "Caddyshack" and "Meatballs," not to mention Belushi and Aykroyd's "The Blues Brothers," that made the whole post-"SNL" movie genre viable.

"You have to commend them for trying to make us laugh, even if they don't always succeed," Stein said. "I'm not convinced it's an 'SNL' curse as much as it is a general challenge for comedians looking to transport a character onto a film medium. 'SNL' players are par for the course, probably."

Dorment agreed.

"You have to consider that comedians are very complex people," he said. "Some are manic-depressives, some have a propensity toward drugs and alcohol, or self-destruction, and all that might manifest itself in some bad luck. But by and large if you look, all the successes come from 'SNL.' In terms of the curse, I don't believe that one exists, from a commercial standpoint."

Thompson added that if anything, having "Saturday Night Live" on a resume could only help an aspiring superstar's career.

"It may be a breeding ground for sketches that become sometimes bad movies," he said, "but if you look at the list of people 'SNL' has bred who have become accomplished stars — even Chevy Chase — there's a higher percentage of 'SNL' people who become stars than people on 'The Real World' or 'Survivor.'"