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Movie Review: Special Needs

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If you're anything like me, you found that episode of Life Goes On where Corky burns down the family restaurant to be one of the funniest television moments in the history of the human race. I know it was supposed to be sad and depressing and gut-wrenching and blah blah blah, but I just couldn't help myself. My sides split instantly, my bladder emptied into my skin-tight black biker shorts, and I rolled around in my own sickly bodily fluids as I literally laughed myself into a stupor. I ultimately blame this forgotten series for my inability to take handicapped people on television seriously. To this day, whenever I witness Katie Couric delivering the nightly news all by herself, I lapse into violent fits of girlish giggles.

This could explain why I'm currently in love with actor/singer/writer/director Isaak James and his tastelessly hilarious mockumentary Special Needs, out on DVD this summer from Troma Entertainment. To list all the reasons why I adore this film would require lots of spare time, several reams of high-quality fax paper, and a giant green crayon the size of Mo'Nique's ultra-absorbent tampon. I will, however, try my best to rein it all in without dipping my review in a tub of ass-waxing hyperbole. The key word in that sentence is "try," so I apologize in advance if things get out of control. After all, there's nothing quite like a comedy that delivers the goods in such an entertaining fashion.

Special Needs follows the exploits of veteran reality TV creator Warren Piece (James) and his quirky crew of overachieving producers and slacker personal assistants. His latest creation, appropriately titled Handicaps, is on the fast track to becoming yet another hit on the CNT network. Unfortunately for Warren, his time in the spotlight may be coming to a very abrupt end. Apparently his last production cost the network millions of dollars, and they're not about to let that sort of thing happen again. To make matters worse, the handicapped individuals who are showing up for the auditions aren't exactly choice cuts of meat, if you catch my drift. Can our hero overcome Ex-lax lattes, disabled gangster rappers, and a plethora of untalented retards in order to keep his seat on the reality TV throne?

To say that Special Needs is funny would be the understatement of the year. In fact, I had such a grand time with Isaak James' directorial debut that I watched the damned thing again as soon as my initial viewing came to a close. This sort of thing usually doesn't happen with low budget, low brow comedies, especially the ones distributed by the likes of Troma. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with Troma, mind you, but the type of films they generally release are good for a disposable laugh or two, nothing more. Special Needs, on the other hand, just begs for multiple viewings, both sober and inebriated.

What saves the proceedings from becoming yet another deserted isle in the sea of tasteless cinema is Isaak James' intelligent script. He's smart enough to know that a movie based solely on one handicapped joke after another simply won't fly in this day and age. Not if he wants people to watch his movie, anyway. The material never treats its collection of "special individuals" cruelly, even when it appears that James is openly mocking them. Warren and his crew are just as screwy and dysfunctional as those they mean to exploit, which allows you to find the humor in their pursuit of handi-talent without feeling guilty about it. Another smart decision was to keep the show itself off-screen; I doubt it could have lived up to expectations, anyway.

It also helps matters considerably that James has assembled a talented cast of virtual unknowns to populate his edgy comedy with. Almost everyone involved does an outstanding job in the picture, though it's plain to see who the real star of the flick is. Isaak James gives himself quite a bit of screen time, though it would be unfair to say he kept most of the good lines for himself. The guy's got talent to spare, however, so it's nice that the film's strongest talent gets the majority of the laughs.

Having verbally spooged all over Special Needs, I'm sure you're wondering if there's anything wrong with the film, a little nugget of negativity that may ruin your own viewing experience. A quick look at my notes reveals nothing in particular. Comedies are exceptionally hard to review; what's funny to me may not be very humorous to you, your mother, or your diabetic grandfather. Most of the jokes in this flick work, though it would be a bold-faced lie to say that all of them pop off the screen and personally tickle your ass with a feather. That said, the majority of the prescribed laughs are functional, which is a very good indicator that you'll have a good time as well.

Will Special Needs fill that comedic void in your pathetic little existence? That all depends on how you define "comedy." If a little humor at the expense of others is something you aren't ashamed to laugh at, then the film will probably do the trick quite nicely. It's smart, engaging, and deliriously enjoyable on a level I honestly didn't expect. If nothing else, hardcore mockumentary fans will certainly have plenty to cheer about. Though I'm sure I'll invoke the wrath of the good and gracious and glorious Lloyd Kaufman by saying this, Special Needs is probably too good for the likes of Troma. Way too good. Though it pains me to say it, most of the stuff that they release is complete and utter trash. Isaak James' nifty feature-length debut, on the other hand, is anything but.

I'm sure even Lloyd would concede to that.

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