Goddard Bolt (Mel Brooks) is one of the richest businessmen in America, nay, the world, but he didn't get where he is today by playing nice, he achieved his success through the opposite of that, ruthlessness. Well, that and the millions his father gave him, but he is confident enough that nobody really cares about whatever nefarious business practices he gets up to to do pretty much whatever he likes, whether that be knocking down Amazon rainforests and displacing their tribes or demolishing old folks' homes to make way for his developments, leaving them with nowhere to go. Yet his latest project will be his legacy to the world, as he will buy the other half of one of the poorest districts of Los Angeles to create a huge business complex...
But getting that other half is the issue, since it is owned by a rival, Vance Crasswell (Jeffrey Tambor), who would like Bolt to sell his share to him, therefore in a plot reminiscent of some folk tale or other, though many compared it to classic movie Sullivan's Travels instead, they devise a bet. All Bolt has to do is live in the rundown area for thirty days with all of his usual resources gone, and should he succeed Crasswell will sell. Sounds simple, and Bolt is just arrogant enough to believe it'll be a piece of cake for a seasoned go-getter like himself, but this was one of those movies where you could predict where it was leading from the first five minutes as the billionaire receives a rude awakening from his previously pampered existence.
Life Stinks was Mel Brooks' first real flop after a couple of decades or more of having his finger on the pulse of the world's love of parody. This was something different as the comic attempted to demonstrate his range by wading into more dramatic waters, as if proving the old cliché about the clown who always wished he could play Hamlet. This wasn't quite that ambitious, yet did suggest Brooks had been observing our Earth from his Hollywood perspective and didn't like what he saw; he had always been happy to discuss his more serious influences in his apparently wacky work, and now it appeared that sincerity was fuelling his creative juices as he may have included all the cruder wit we had come to expect, but there were scenes here where Brooks wanted to tug on the heartstrings.
It shouldn't have been artistically successful - it certainly wasn't financially successful - but in its way Brooks' concern was unexpectedly disarming, and if his conception of the homeless was cartoonish as he refused to neglect the humour entirely, then he did turn the viewer's thoughts to the disadvantaged as was the intention. Once Bolt is on the streets, with an electronic tag to prove he hasn't wandered out of the district and back home to his swanky mansion, he naturally discovers that without the safety net of money to help him through life he struggles as much as the decidedly non-millionaires do when trying to secure basics as food and shelter. He also begins to get to know the denizens of the streets, some nicer than others and some assuredly crazier than others, though again it was a Hollywood version of crazy we were dealing with.
If nothing else Life Stinks proved how difficult it was to divine humour in the most desperate of circumstances, Preston Sturges after all had given up the jokes part of the way through Sullivan's Travels to illustrate those condescending to try and evoke the life of a vagrant were truly out of touch if they thought something as well-intentioned as art could provide a cushion between their aspirations and the reality of living hand to mouth. Nevertheless, Brooks' way with comedy did offer a few decent laughs, mostly in Bolt's culture shock, and he had solid support from a variety of old hands at the comedian game, both playing the sympathetic homeless and the notably unsympathetic rich. Lesley Ann Warren was his love interest, a bag lady who prefers to look at the bleak side of life since she cannot bring herself to be optimistic after the hand fate has dealt her, and Brooks gave her a nice scene where she showed off her dancing skills. There was even a twist two thirds of the way through which may catch you off guard; its heart was in the right place. Music by John Morris.