For starters, the audience is treated to a burp, a fart, Granny getting knocked down in an outhouse, Elly May kicking a bear in the balls and the whole Clampett clan giving the finger – these folks call it the California Howdy – to their new 90210 neighbors. So that’s what they couldn’t get away with when The Beverly Hillbillies ran on CBS from 1962 to 1971. Who says we’re not making progress?
Fresh from transferring Wayne’s World from the tube to the big screen for big box office, director Penelope Spheeris turns her keen eye for the tacky on a moldier piece of pop-culture detritus about a family of crackers who move on up to Beverly Hills when oil is discovered behind their shack in the Ozarks. At the screening I attended, there were frequent walk-outs after each burst of flatulence and each sight gag about Elly May’s boobs. The Beverly Hillbillies is not, as the saying goes, a critic’s picture. Still, you want to root for a movie that wallows without shame in leering, fatuous humor. I did – for about 15 minutes – then the sameness set in like an overdose of Beavis and Butt-Head.
Spheeris pushes the actors into overdrive. Diedrich Bader plays Jethro’s thickheadedness way beyond the call of duty. And Cloris Leachman, in for the deceased Irene Ryan as Granny, is too frenetic. Amid the chaos, Erika Eleniak (the party girl in Under Siege) finds a sweetness in Elly May. Ditto Jim Varney as papa Jed (Buddy Ebsen, the original Jed, does a cameo as his post-Hillbillies TV P.I., Barnaby Jones).
But the real scene stealers are Dabney Coleman as the banker Mr. Drysdale, who wants to exploit the Clampetts, and Lily Tomlin as his officious assistant, Miss Jane Hathaway, who learns to love them. Though Tomlin puts her unique stamp on Miss Jane, her terrific performance is also an affectionate tribute to the late Nancy Kulp, who originated the role. Tomlin finds the humor and the heart in these hillbillies. The rest is just crude oil.