Life Stinks is a member of an elite group. It’s one of Mel Brooks’ final directorial efforts since his quasi-retirement into the sunset of Broadway adaptations. Although it won’t be stratified alongside such milestones as The Producers, Young Frankenstein or Blazing Saddles, Life Stinks is a daftly funny gasp of madcap warmth before the Semitic impresario would close up shop.
For instance, only a genius of visual zaniness like Brooks could milk a scene of shoes across a floor for the optimal number of laughs. It begins the film on a high note of gut-busting anarchic silliness. Therefore, the midsection lull in which Goddard Bolt (Brooks) is scrounging through the ghetto without his plutocratic resources; can be glided over as a minor inconvenience.
Most auteurs don’t translate into inspired leading men. Just look at Seth MacFarlane as an example of a creator who should remain behind the lens. However, Brooks’s moon-sized face and loose-limbed, elfin stature has always given him the chops necessary to be a Renaissance man of screwball comedy. When Leslie Ann Warren and Brooks are prancing around to a Gene Kelly dance number in the slums, he is clearly an old-fashioned, vaudevillian showman. For this rip-roaring sequence, the twinkle in his eye is contagious.
Some of the Frank Capra social commentary about the homeless epidemic in America deprives the humor of its zing. Warren’s anecdote about she was abandoned by her husband with a backlog of bills, the scene clumsily lumbers between disingenuous pathos and coarse pantomime.
Maybe it’s because Brooks emits such a philanthropic glow around him, Bolt isn’t demonized after his proposed destruction of a penniless district. One would expect a multimillionaire of his insensitivity to be more petulant and shrill about his predicament. Beyond the boardroom, Bolt is never an outright scoundrel.
Luckily, Life Stinks is buoyed by a few of the best sight gags that Brooks has committed to celluloid (ex. Goddard fruitlessly trying to unclothe Molly (Warren) underneath layers of shirts), the vibe is sanguine more often than not and it doesn’t safely lean on Brooks’ favorite pastime of cinematic spoofing.