Films

Those crazy mixed-up Kids

Brian D. Johnson April 22 1996
Films

Those crazy mixed-up Kids

Brian D. Johnson April 22 1996

Those crazy mixed-up Kids

Films

BRIAN D. JOHNSON

They started out like a rock band. Five cute young guys playing the club scene on Toronto’s Queen Street West. Skewering middleclass values. Cross-dressing before it was fashionable.

Combining boyish charm with punk insouciance.

That was a decade ago.

Now the Kids in the Hall (Scott Thompson, Mark McKinney, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch and Dave Foley) are not kids any more. Since wrapping up their five-year TV series in 1994—an award-winning show that played on the CBC, HBO and CBS— they have all set off on solo careers. Three of them hold steady jobs on American television. And two of the Kids have kids of their own. Which is not to say that the Kids in the Hall have settled down or sold out. They are still Canadian comedy’s most proudly dysfunctional family. And they have a Hollywood movie to prove it.

Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy is actually a Hollywood movie in name only. Although it is financed by Paramount Pictures, its stars, its director (Kelly Makin) and its producer (Lome Michaels) are all Canadian. Though set in Manhattan, it was filmed in Toronto for just $9 million, a fraction of the typical Hollywood budget. And the sour-gumball flavor of Brain Candas satire—it is a pharmaceutical farce about a scientist who invents a drug to

Making a~ movie was no ball for the Kids in the Hall

cure depression—bears no trace of sugarcoated Hollywood formula. Paramount executives, in fact, asked the Kids to cut one character that they found offensive, McCulloch’s baldheaded Cancer Boy. But Cancer Boy stayed. “People at the studio were frightened of this film from the word go,” says Scott Thompson. “And I think they still are.”

In a Toronto hotel room, Thompson, 37, sits intently absorbed in dunking a tea bag in a tall silver pot. “So nice to be able to get a good cup of tea again,” says the actor, who moved to Los Angeles last year to join the cast of HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show. Then, just as quickly, he apologizes for sounding pretentious.

It is not easy for Thompson to talk about filming

Brain Candy. For the Kids, who underwent a painful split over the movie, its theme of depression struck perilously close to home. But for Thompson, the production also coincided with a personal tragedy. Two weeks before filming began last summer, one of his four brothers, Matt, committed suicide. “That summer my whole life changed. Everything that I depended on, the groupings

\ that I based

my life on, were no longer there. The Kids in the Hall were fractured. And my family was destroyed—not destroyed, but you can imagine.”

Making the movie became a vital form of therapy. “Until now, I haven’t spoken of this at all,” he says, “but in many ways, the film was exactly what I needed. Our movie was about depression. The central character’s motivation to create the drug was the suicide of his father. Maybe I’m in denial still. But I could not wait to get into character every day. I never wanted the shoot to end.”

Thompson, who grew up outside Toronto in Brampton, Ont., points out an uncanny symmetry between his family and the Kids. “There were five of us, five boys, just like the Kids in the Hall. So my whole

Satirical all-sorts

KIDS IN THE HALL: BRAIN CANDY

Directed by Kelly Makin

The premise recasts Brave New World for the Prozac generation. In an era of downers and downsizing, a financially strapped drug company conscripts a nerdy scientist named Chris (Kevin McDonald), who has invented a cure for depression. His pill is given a name and a slogan— “Gleemonex makes it feel like it’s 72 degrees in your head all the time”—and soon it is sweeping the nation, the proverbial

opiate of the masses. Like the Kids’ TV series, Brain Candy is not the kind of comedy that generates side-splitting laughter. It is clever, subversive and slyly amusing. With the Kids playing some 40 characters, the script unfolds as an amalgam of comic tangents. There are some gems. In a rich parody of a '50s musical, Scott Thompson plays a repressed homosexual dad who pops some Gleemonex, then, phalanxed by lawn sprinklers, dances down his suburban street with a throng of neighbors singing, “I’m gay! I’m gay!" And Bruce McCulloch adds some inspired touches as Alice, the scientist's lovestruck lab assistant.

But aside from the villainous drug com-

pany magnate Don, cunningly played by Mark McKinney, none of the characters has much staying power. And the cerebral, fragmented style of the Kids’ comedy offers no emotional engagement. That may not matter on television, a medium that thrives on ironic detachment, but a feature film has to transport the viewer. Eventually, recognizing its own predicament, the script slouches towards a banal ending and an obvious moral while grumpily sending up the whole process. Brain Candy gives a good satirical buzz, but it wears off quickly, leaving little food for thought.

B.D.J.

life has been that pattern. That’s exactly how I related to the Kids in the Hall. Our fights were like brothers’. They got really intense, at times physical.” And as Thompson lost a brother, the Kids also lost one of their ranks. Dave Foley, 33, who had landed a starring role in the NBC sitcom News Radio, strayed from the group and made just token appearances in the movie. “The writing of the movie was very difficult,” says Thompson. “Dave drifted off very soon in the process. He never liked the idea, but I don’t think he gave it a chance. He lost the stomach for the group.”

But for the Kids, creativity has always been rooted in conflict. “Our first year,” Thompson recalls, “Bruce quit about five times. Unlike most groups, we never allowed one personality to dominate. We were never Hootie and the Blowfish. We were just the Blowfish. So there was a constant power struggle. Which probably gave rise to a lot of our truly great comedy.” Thompson tends to talk about the Kids in the past tense. “He’s a bit of a pessimist,” says 36-year-old McKinney in a separate interview. ‘We’ve been having vicious arguments since I was 20. But we have a great body of work. Any group that produces something like that on television is always going to think fondly of each other.” McKinney can afford to be sanguine; he has the movie’s juiciest role. As Don, he plays a silver-haired pharmaceutical magnate with a noblesse oblige manner that is clearly modelled on the style of Lome Michaels, now McKinney’s boss at Saturday Night Live. “Lome’s not evil,” laughs McKinney. “That’s the only essential difference.” McKinney realizes that Brain Candy may not be a huge hit. “But it doesn’t have to do gangbusters to make money,” he says. “This isn’t our attempt to break wide; this is our attempt to learn how to make films. It was intended for the audience that’s out there for us anyway. Here’s my calculation. If every Kids in the Hall fan

brings one friend____”

Regardless of how Brain Candy fares, the Kids have careers of their own. Foley’s News Radio is a hit. McDonald, 34, has starred in a feature film, National Lampoon’s Senior Trip. McKinney expects to return to SNL again next fall. And McCulloch, 35, has made short films for SNL and released a musical-comedy CD titled Shame-Based Man. Thompson, meanwhile, plans to resume taping Larry Sanders next fall. As Brian, the gay assistant to secondbanana Hank on the mock talk show, he has played a fairly minor role for most of the current season. But because of the movie, and the death of his brother, “my heart wasn’t really in it,” he says. “I wasn’t really there.” On the other hand, his character is meant to be subdued. “Brian is a personal assistant,” he explains. “At times I think, ‘I’m a little boring,’ but when I’m boring I go, Well, I’m doing it right.’ ” And if things get too boring, he can always go back out to the Hall, and look up the Kids.a