Movies that highlight any part of the entertainment business are like catnip to me. I want to know anything about movies or popular culture, especially if movie favorites get referenced. So when I read about Netflix’s latest original film, A Futile and Stupid Gesture, my catnip senses started tingling. A Futile and Stupid Gesture tells the story of Douglas Kenney and his creation of the magazine National Lampoon and his part in making the films National Lampoon’s Animal House and Caddyshack. Yep, pure catnip.
The movie gives us Will Forte as Kenney. One of the creative forces working on The Harvard Lampoon, a satirical magazine, Kenney and his friend Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson) decide to give up their original after-college plans and, instead, create a national version of the college magazine. Thus, the National Lampoon is born. It takes time, but eventually the magazine is a hit and the crew of the Lampoon get involved in radio and film. Of course, like all film bios, there has to be more than just the good times, so the movie also looks at the unhappier parts of Kenney’s destructive life.
Even though these kinds of movies are catnip, it still requires a strong story with creative flair to keep me entertained. A Futile and Stupid Gesture is more of a slim tale with bland bits. Some of those bits stand out, especially when the cast of characters have fun, and the movie has fun dropping in some of the bright lights of 1970s comedy. We get Chevy Chase (Joel McHale), Bill Murray (Jon Daly), John Belushi (John Gemberling), Harold Ramis (Rick Glassman), Gilda Radner (Jackie Tohn) and more.
The script offers funny moments, especially when it takes a distancing approach of what is happening on screen. Mull as Kenney showing exasperation with the usual biopic devices is on point, but the plot relies too much on Kenney not getting enough love from his father, which leads him to be a drug-fueled and depressed talent. Forte tries hard to make Kenney a mix of quirky comic genius and angst-filled artist but can’t pull it off consistently with the script he’s given.
A Futile and Stupid Gesture is one of those middling films that are entertaining, but it’s not a movie that will stay in your memory long after you watch it. It is a weak form of pop culture catnip—the kind that leaves you slightly buzzed but not totally overwhelmed.