The Beverly Hillbillies (December 7/04)
It's fitting that The Beverly Hillbillies is based on a popular sitcom, given that the film feels perfectly suited to the small screen. There's nothing terrible cinematic about the movie, which has all the style of an episode of the series. Director Penelope Spheeris (who has helmed several other visually unimpressive flicks, including The Little Rascals and Black Sheep) admittedly does a nice job of keeping things moving, but really, this is the sort of flick that's best left to the kids.
The movie's set-up is identical to that of the series, with Jed Clampett (played by Jim Varney) hitting it big after discovering an extensive reservoir of oil underneath his property. He packs up his family - including brother Jethro (Diedrich Bader), mother Granny (Cloris Leachman), and daughter Elly May (Erika Eleniak) - and heads to Beverly Hills, where he hopes to find a suitable wife that'll help turn Elly May into a respectable woman. Jed thinks he's found the perfect candidate in a French tutor named Laurette Voleur (Lea Thompson), but Laurette is actually the wife of a smarmy banker (Rob Schneider) and the two have hatched a scheme to steal all of Jed's cash.
It's hard to say exactly where The Beverly Hillbillies goes wrong, though it'd be hard not to lay blame at the film's overwhelming innocuousness. That it took four people to write the screenplay doesn't come as much of a surprise, given that pretty much every single joke lands with a thud (the film has the vibe of something cobbled together by committee). There's nothing offensive or surprising about the movie, and indeed, the majority of the story plays out just the way one might expect (ie the villain receives an appropriately humiliating comeuppance).
The film's sole saving grace is the charisma of the various actors, particularly Varney - who firmly leaves all traces of Ernest behind him. Varney is essentially required to play straight man to everyone in the cast, and there's no denying that he does a fine job of turning Jed into an actual character (rather than an overblown caricature). His costars effectively channel their small-screen predecessors, with Bader and Leachman obvious standouts.
The Beverly Hillbillies doesn't require the viewer to have seen the original show, though it is possible fans may derive more enjoyment out of the film than neophytes (simply because they can marvel at how accurate the whole thing is, while overlooking the general lack of creativity on display).