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By Jesse Fox Mayshark

Dumb, Ugly, and Cool

July 8, 1997:  There's no respectable way to respond to Beavis and Butthead.

If you ignore them, you're unhip. If you're offended by them, you don't have a sense of humor. If you think they're just dumb, you're missing the point--they're supposed to be dumb. If you talk knowingly about how they represent an ironic, post-modern world view entirely defined by refracted pop culture, you're taking them (and yourself) way too seriously. And if you laugh...boy, you're really in trouble.

But laugh is about all I could do through most of Beavis and Butthead Do America (1996, PG-13), the debut feature film from MTV's idle idols. The movie isn't much of an improvement on the TV show, which is either good or bad depending on your point of view. The animation is still ugly (hey, it's supposed to be ugly), and the dunderheaded duo is still obsessed with heavy metal and unattainable girls. The story has our heroes--the cluelessly self-assured Butthead and the neurotically nervous Beavis--on a cross-country odyssey in search of their lost TV set. Along the way, they get mistaken for hit men, accidentally ingest hallucinogens, and crash the White House.

The jokes are predictable (they're supposed to be predictable), mostly crude innuendo and scatological sight gags. If there's some symbolic commentary on modern America, it stays pretty well hidden. But somehow, despite some slow patches and a drawn-out denouement, the movie works. Is it because B&B are some perverse version of our inner selves? Is it because they're so stupid they're ironically clever? Is it because there's something strangely innocent, even feral, about these offspring of TV and Ritalin? I have no idea. About all I could muster after watching it was, "Uh, that was cool."

One of the movie's odder scenes has Beavis and Butthead meet up with their long-lost fathers. But any fan of dumb-guy humor knows the boys' real antecedents are named Wayne and Garth and Bill and Ted. In fact, Wayne's World (1992, PG-13) and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989, PG) are, well, excellent primers for the world of B&B. They share the same love of wailing guitars, the same guileless adolescent outlook, and the same lack of pretense to anything even resembling sophistication (and Ted remains, to this day, the only role in which Keanu Reeves was ever truly convincing). They're also pretty funny. Just don't ask me why. -Jesse Fox Mayshark

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