Nether Regions 11.14.12: Rabbit Test
Posted by Chad Webb on 11.14.2012
If you thought Ivan Reitman's Junior was the only comedy made about a pregnant man, think again. This week's, Nether Regions meets its toughest test to date. From 1978, Joan Rivers gives us one of the worst films ever made...
Nether Regions started as a segment of the Big Screen Bulletin in the movie-zone that meant to showcase films that have been discontinued on DVD, are out of print in the United States, are only available in certain regions outside the United States, or are generally hard to find. Now it is a column all its own! You might ask, "Why should I care about a film I have no access to?" My goal is to keep these films relevant because some of them genuinely deserve to be recognized. Every time I review a new film I will have a list of those I covered below so you can see if they have been announced for DVD release, or are still out of print.
Starring: Billy Crystal, Joan Prather, and Doris Roberts Directed By: Joan Rivers Written By: Joan Rivers and Jay Redack Original Release Date: April 9, 1978 Running Time: 84 minutes Missing Since: February 23, 1989 Existing Formats:VHS Netflix Status: Not Available Availability: Rarest of the Rare
I first heard of Rabbit Test after seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1994 misfire Junior. Upon perusing Wikipedia and various reviews I discovered that it was not the only movies made about a man getting pregnant. In fact, that other title was released 16 years earlier and starred Billy Crystal. As bad as Junior was, my curiosity peaked, but the general consensus revealed that Rabbit Test was pretty excruciating as well. Nevertheless, I eventually located a copy and was able to watch it. In this case, its rare status should have been a clue to stay away. I did not listen and as a result have survived one of the worst pieces of cinematic excrement ever made.
We are introduced to Lionel Carpenter (BIlly Crystal) as he rambling about wine to an apparent date in his dimly lit apartment. This turns out to be a blow-up doll, which he accidentally deflates, sending it whizzing all over the room. Right off the bat, Joan Rivers' lack of subtlety is obvious. This was a lame gag to begin with, but the exaggerated manner with which the toy scurries across the room tells the audience they're in for a bumpy ride. Lionel is a virgin and a loser it seems. None of the jokes make sense. At first Lionel is casually walking down the street. A kid drops a toy and he stops to pick it up for them. The youngster then shouts, "Pervert!" O…k? Lionel's mother (Doris Roberts) is an eccentric, nosey woman, who still pines for the return of her husband 18 years after he disappeared. She yells for him out the window and the neighbors reply with the classic line from Network: "We're as mad as hell…" Har har. His cousin Danny (Alex Rocco) comes home from Vietnam and they discuss Lionel's loneliness during a baptism. Meanwhile the priest is holding the triplets by the feet and continually submerging them in water for long periods of time. This is what passes for comedy.
Lionel deals with his mother and sister.
Danny takes him to the local Vet club and it is there that Lionel is accosted by a sex-hungry woman. They do the deed on a bowling/pinball machine and Lionel moves on, back to his job teaching foreigners who want citizenship. He gets the guts to ask one of his students, Segoynia Savaka (Joan Prather), out and she accepts. Lionel explains that he's been feeling sick lately and Segoynia's grandmother (Roddy McDowall) concocts some weird liquid that shows he is pregnant somehow. Segoynia's family worships Lionel from then on like Jesus. He goes to doctors, most of whom are unhelpful. He has thoughts of abortion, but no one can perform the procedure. Cousin Danny sees dollar signs and suggests that Lionel take all the opportunities he can to financially benefit from being the first pregnant male. He meets the President of the United States (George Gobel), takes a world tour, and his fame continues to grow, but Lionel gets carried away and forgets that he has life is growing inside of him.
I honestly have never seen a film like Rabbit Test before. It accomplishes something I don't think any film past, present, or future will do which is offend just about every major culture or group on the planet. The script from Rivers and Hollywood Squares producer Jay Redack obsesses over squeezing in as many racial stereotypes or absurdly inappropriate set pieces as possible. No one is safe. The President is portrayed as a dimwitted hillbilly who is ruled by his wife. While declaring July 5th, Lionel Carpenter day, he insults victims of a tornado attack for wanting the same thing. Shortly thereafter a woman from India insults the moon landing in comparison to Lionel's accomplishment. The Pope is seen not actually walking to his balcony and waving. He gets a mannequin lookalike to do this in fear of being pooped on by pigeons. Billy Barty performs in blackface on a guy's lap. One African is referred to as a "jungle bunny." You get the idea. Some might simply chalk this up to satire, but that does not make it acceptable.
Whether it is satirical, slapstick, deadpan, black humor, screwball, or gross-out, Rabbit Test fails miserably on every level. And trust me; the movie tries to incorporate each and every style it can. A circus of performers show up for cameo appearances. The cast includes George Gobel, Imogene Coca, Richard Deacon, Paul Lynde, Sheree North, Tom Poston, and more. They are all wasted as Rivers attempts to integrate her own brisk one-liner deliver for all of them, but every attempt falls flat. Either that, or they uniformly overstate their brief bursts on screen. Often the dialogue is spoken so fast it lacks clarity. Many scenes are so clumsily thrown together that it seems like the punch line is completely missing, forgotten, or disregarded. Even with the worst of today's crass, vulgar comedies, you tend to chuckle instinctively, but in Rabbit Test, not one muscle will respond to the vile material. Well, you might laugh out of pity.
Lionel meets Segoynia's family.
Rabbit Test has the distinction of being the film debut of two great actors: Billy Crystal and Michael Keaton. I wonder how they feel about this blemish now? Keaton can be spotted as a sailor in one quick scene. Crystal obviously stars. He was on a few shows at this point in his career, specifically Soap, but never a feature until Hollywood Squares friend Joan Rivers came a knockin'. Anyone assuming a small morsel of this idiocy is salvaged by Crystal's sarcastic droll will be sorely mistaken. Apart from the aforementioned opening sequence, Rivers rarely gives Crystal a chance to stretch. He comes off as a whining pansy, a dork, and not much else. It's not his fault, though he does resemble a baby taking his first steps in quicksand. Doris Roberts is highly grating as his shrill mother. She thinks Lionel had sex with his sister to become pregnant and flies into hysterics, accusing him of "incense." Yeah. Alex Rocco was evidently instructed to down a whole bottle of caffeine pills to play military vet cousin Danny. His character is inane and irritating to the point of having the desire to puncture your eardrums. Joan Prather is the love interest, Segoynia, and she has absolutely zero range, which goes wonderful on top of the fact that she and Crystal establish no chemistry. With her, one questions if Rivers was aiming for a romantic comedy instead of mocking pregnancy.
I haven't even touched on the continuity errors, which arrive in endless amounts. I would delve into them in more detail, but that would take forever and this film doesn't deserve it. Take my word for it, there be plot holes a plenty! Watch this and I swear Junior will look like a masterpiece. That is an achievement in and of itself. At least they tried to explain how the guy got knocked up. Rabbit Test barely scratches that surface. He had sex and became pregnant instead of the woman because she was on top? This has been described as a commentary on women taking positions of power from men. Ummm…sure. But then Rivers never explores the possibilities of the role-reversal. She expected us to erupt uproariously at all the random, incoherent supporting characters. Crystal's medical enigma is never really a source of laughter. He gets pregnant, has the child…the end. Suspension of disbelief? Sorry, not gonna happen here and I don't have that kind of willpower. The central dilemma is almost a macguffin, or as much as it can be without actually being one.
It should not come as a shock that Joan Rivers did not direct anything else after this carnival of torture. I don't give a hoot for Rivers' fashion criticism specials, but her stand-up can be quite amusing. Unfortunately you wouldn't know that by enduring this 84 minutes of dreck. Maybe she was hoping to execute a comedy in the vein of Airplane! Perhaps she was conveying an acerbic message about pregnancy or men or some other group she hates. Whatever her goal was, it was a disaster. They say judging movies is subjective. Critics and writers are supposed to concur with this statement. With Rabbit Test, I'm sorry, but I just can't. This is a genuinely horrific film in every conceivable manner. Anyone who claims to receive enjoyment from it needs to have their head examined. Its wretched stench is so putrid that I would hesitate to afford another viewing even if the hilarious gentlemen at Rifftrax supplied a commentary of it. I could speculate as to the reasons why it has not landed on DVD, but I doubt anyone would care. There is probably no demand for it. The majority of the content is, to put it nicely, off-putting and disrespectful, so why would any studio push this on consumers? I have no Earthly idea who holds the rights to this, so that could be an issue as well, who knows? No words can accurately describe just how awful Rabbit Test is. I did my best. You have been warned.