Life Stinks: Mel Brooks Misfire–Comedy about Homeless

With a very few exceptions, comedies about the poor and homeless have fared rather poorly at the box-office.

Mel Brooks fell flat on his face with Life Stinks, essentially a vaudeville caricature about life on skid row in Los Angeles.

The plot is driven by a wager between two billionaires. Goddard Bolt (played by Mel Brooks), a man born into a fortune that he has parlayed into one of the largest in the world, dreams to demolish a shabby section of Los Angeles in order to build an ultra-modern commercial center and name it after himself.

Problem is, Goddard owns just half the land that’s needed. The man who owns the other half is his archrival, Vance Craswell (Jeffrey Tambor), who fancies dreams of his own.

Each tries to buy the other out, but to no avail, until Craswell bets Bolt that he can’t survive for 30 days on the streets without money or credit cards. If Bolt wins, he gets the other half of the property; if he loses, his half goes to Craswell.

The script, written by Mel Brooks, Rudy De Luca and Steve Haberman, borrows heavily from The Prince and the Pauper, and great Depression screwball comedies like Gregory LaCava’s My Man Godfrey and Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels.

The film’s premise of a rich man who chooses to live among the poor is schematic and underdeveloped. In a series of vignettes, Bolt, renamed Pepto by a local denizen, tries various survival tactics, including dancing for donations. But Bolt is essentially charmless, and the audience feels no trace of sympathy for him, even when he’s dumped into a trash bin and showered with garbage.

Brooks aims at a modern fable in which a powerful, heartless man is humbled and regains his humanity, (while retaining his wealth), but the film’s mood is too crass for a fairy tale.

Inadvertently, “Life Stinks” gives the dangerous impression that being homeless is cute, and that L.A.’s back streets are filled with adorable and eccentric characters.