When someone mentions this film, some common scenes usually come to mind: A crazy gopher being pursued by Bill Murray. A golf bag with a TV and stereo. Chevy Chase sinking a half-dozen impossible putts. And of course the visual lesson on the perils of introducing a Baby Ruth candy bar into a swimming pool full of wild teenagers. And these scenes are, without a doubt, hilarious in their own right. But the problem with Caddyshack is that the movie as a whole just doesn’t work very well. It’s more like a collection of short vignettes strung together with the barest of plots that exists to serve as a showcase for quirky stars like Rodney Dangerfield and Chevy Chase to chew some scenery.
I suppose that’s the appeal of this movie, though, and when every individual is a caricature, and the antagonist a wily gopher, it is incumbent on the viewer to not take any of the material too seriously. But even with a hefty grain of salt, Caddyshack is still a strange amalgam of odd material that only loosely fits together, if at all. Consider the plight of Carl Spackler, the dim-witted but indomitable country club groundskeeper charged with eliminating the gopher threat that has been plaguing the greens. He embarks on a series of misguided attempts, much like a character in a Warner Brothers cartoon, to outsmart the gopher but is foiled at every turn. His Final Solution is so outrageous, yet ultimately ineffective, that it’s hard to not laugh at the sheer spectacle of it all.
It’s not the absurdity of the intertwining stories in Caddyshack that cripple the movie, it’s the way in which director Harold Ramis flips between Spackler and the rest of the movie without any apparent idea of where he’s going with all of it. The plot wanders from country club to swimming pool to yacht club to suburban homes without any clear aim or goal other than to allow Dangerfield to spew forth a fountain of pithy one-liners or Chase to wax philosophical while hitting golf balls barefoot. But before I get strung up as a soulless nincompoop who can’t just laugh at absurd comedy, rest assured that this movie certainly does have its funny bits. It’s just that a couple bits of hilarity aren’t enough to concoct a solid comedy any more than a couple scoops of sugar are enough to bake a cake.
Perhaps my distaste for Caddyshack also comes from a dislike of Rodney Dangerfield, who commands a rather large amount of screen time for no discernible reason other than to showcase his unique brand of what some would consider comedy. Hurling weak insults like someone with a mild case of tourrette’s is fine for a stand-up comic, but doesn’t work in a movie. Literally every second that Dangerfield is on screen, his character Al Czervik is taunting, insulting, or dismissing everyone he lays eyes on. The charm of such a character wears off almost immediately, and quickly turns into grating irritation. Dangerfield’s character, removed by the barest margins from the man himself, is a one-trick pony who quickly wears out his welcome.
It’s been 30 years since Caddyshack made its way to theatres, and even though it has achieved cultlike status as a solid piece of comedy, I found it to be uneven and, at times, downright boring. The cast is certainly having a good time. I just wish it was a party the audience could enjoy too.