Bumpy Road for Crispin Glover Vehicle

From the May 15, 1992 issue of the Los Angeles Times :

By Michael Wilmington, Special to the Times

The slow movement of Gustav Mahler's First Symphony -- with its sinuous, macabre variations on the nursery song "Frere Jacques" -- pulses through "Rubin & Ed" (Cineplex Odeon Fairfax) like a mocking dirge. In this movie, a Crispin Glover vehicle gone wrong, the music becomes a requiem for a dead pet, a dirge for dumb dreams, and perhaps a twisted lament for the last three decades of American culture: the rebellious '60s, the hedonistic '70s, the greed-crazed '80s.

Those three decades are compacted into the character of Rubin, who was initially devised by Glover as a wigged-out alter ego, a spoiled recluse in long hair, bell-bottoms and foot-high platform shoes who votes Republican. Glover supplied Rubin, and writer-director Trent Harris supplied the framework: a comedy about two mismatched eccentrics on an absurd quest to bury a frozen cat in the Utah desert. The film doesn't really work, but it keeps that giddy funereal edge. The movie's world is a sick joke; its universe has a deadpan sandy grin.

In the movie, Rubin's foil, Howard Hesseman's Ed, is a would-be salesman with desperate smiles and an unruly toupee who belongs to a cultish real-estate company, whereas the unemployed -- and probably unemployable -- Rubin hides out in a motel room, indulging in sex fantasies while mournfully squeezing his dead cat Simon's squeaky-mouse toy. (Simon himself is in the freezer, awaiting proper burial.)

Rubin's lachrymose lifestyle is a parody of human grief; Ed's hubba-hubba salesmanship a parody of the dress-for-success, money-chasing ethic of the post-Watergate era. They're thrown together in an idiotic mutual dependency. Ed wants to recruit Rubin for one of his ludicrous Busta Co. sales seminars; Rubin wants to recruit Ed as the "friend" his mother demands he produce to justify his existence.

The two wind up hauling off Simon's corpse to Utah in a beer cooler -- in the Busta company car -- and then wandering all over the vast, scorched terrain in search of the ideal grave site, through caves, over canyons and plains, saving each other's lives like heroic cowboys in John Ford's "Searchers" and finally becoming outlaw fugitives.

Unlike the usual movie oddballs, these two aren't in revolt against society, even unconsciously. Ed is a loser who wanted to grab onto the gravy train and Rubin a parasite who doesn't want to leave the house. And "Rubin & Ed" doesn't build up to the elation or release that comedies about lovable or likable oddballs usually work for. It doesn't suggest that Rubin's and Ed's nuttiness is a kind of grace.

Stupidity is the movie's theme: the minor stupidity of Rubin and Ed, the major stupidity of the culture around them. But the irony is forced, the satire shallow. The vast desert arena tends to shrivel up these characters and their quirks, and the movie becomes a survival epic with screwy gags.

Paradoxically, though "Rubin & Ed" was conceived as a Crispin Glover vehicle, there's not enough of Glover in it; motor-mouth Hesseman tends to walk off with their scenes. Harris has written his star so little dialogue that Glover doesn't get to display his specialty: warping, distending and fracturing his lines, letting them dribble off in little spasms of posturing and defiant confusion.

Instead, he becomes a kind of strong, silent goof: the deadly nerd with a hubcap on his head and the lethal high kick, who survives in the desert by drinking sweat out of his Eversoles. It's unlikely that most people who catch Glover for the first time in "Rubin & Ed" (MPAA-rated PG-13) are going to guess at the charge of his acting in "River's Edge," "Twister" or the recent "Little Noises." Harris, perhaps unconsciously, has turned him into a Crispin Glover doll, a marketable crazy, the goofball prisoner of the desert.

'Rubin & Ed'

Crispin Glover: Rubin

Howard Hesseman: Ed

Karen Black: Rula

Michael Greene: Mr. Busta

A Working Title Films presentation, released by I.R.S. Releasing Corp. Director/Screenplay Trent Harris. Producer Paul Webster. Executive producer Tim Bevan. Cinematographer Bryan Duggan. Editor Brent Schoenfeld. Costumes Lawane Cole. Music Fredric Myrow. Production design Clark Hunter. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG-13.

GRAPHIC: Photo, Howard Hesseman, left, Crispin Glover are mismatched eccentrics in "Rubin & Ed": The movie becomes a survival epic with screwy gags. I.R.S.