Every time I think of this film, I keep thinking of that song "Mad World"; not the slow, depressing Michael Andrews and Gary Jules version that they did for "Donnie Darko" and everything else, the better, original, 1981 version by Tears for Fears that's well-played, yet still tonally uneven, because the lyrics were still mediocrely uneven and sad, if you could hear them over the aforementioned overly lively instrumental. I think that version fits this film a little bit better, even though this film is, as put best by its better original title, "Something a Little Less Serious", because it is still also rather noisy and messy. Man, this really is a mad, mad, mad, mad film; it's all over the place. Hey, I suppose that's what happens when you're nuts enough to do an epic comedy, as we eventually saw with "10,000 BC", the only epic comedy that's funnier than this film, partially because I find it hilarious that it's too short to be that much of an epic, though not short enough. Speaking of laughable anachronisms, does anyone else like how I keep referencing stuff that came out years after this film, even though I should be looking at it from its level, like a more credible critic? Hey, I think I am reading it on its level by being anachronistic, because humor like that is just crazy enough for this film, and, well, as put best by the consensus, that's exactly its charm. Still, make no mistake, the fact of the matter is that this messy production truly is a mad, mad, mad, mad film.
Amidst an era of slow comedies, even a film this frenetic and lengthy can't escape the occasional slow spot that especially leaves its length to glare, yet more often than not, it's the aforecited freneticism you have to worry about when it comes to comfortable story flow. Now, maybe I was going a little overboard earlier, when I said that this film is all over the place, because this film isn't a terribly explosive mess, yet make no bones about it, this film remains messy, bloating with excess material and repetition as it sloppily unravels, spilling out joke after joke, not all of which hit. At 160 minutes, or in the case of the original cut, wherever it went, three-and-a-half hours of unrelenting comedy, there are bound to be more than one sinkers, and while few, if any really crash and burn, there are still quite a few jokes that fall glaringly flat, whether it be because they're delivered obnoxiously (Eh, may she rest in peace and all, but shut up, Ethel Merman), or go on for too long, or go staged weakly, or simply just don't hit, and the moments in which that happen really do knock you out of the film for a second. Still, at the end of the day, the central problem with the film is that it's simply just so blasted long, and gratuitously so. Not that this is down to the level of Steven Spielberg's mediocre "1941", yet this is an earlier example of a film along those lines, in that it is also a bloated epic comedy that's simply not quite sweeping enough to consistently engage the audience or deliver as many good jokes as it wants to. Still, if any film is going to be an example of a bloated epic comedy that's done relatively well, I suppose this is the closest thing to the end-all-be-all. This film is still in no way a genuinely fine piece of cinema, yet for what it is, this film can bloat all it wants, because it's hard to be repelled once you fall in, partially because there are some aspects in which the film's broadness works to an actually engaging effect.
As sprawling as the film is, and often messily so, on the good couple of occasions in which it does settle down, or at least grow more comfortable in its broadness, the product becomes rewarding. Director Stanley Kramer may not be entirely consistent in his storytelling comfort, yet he really gives the film a sense of scope and adventure to soften the blow of the repetition and augment the entertainment value, and does so with the help of Ernest Laszlo's, at time, sweeping cinematography and Ernest Gold's lively score. Wow, Kramer must have really liked the first name Ernest, which is understandable, because earnest is a good way to describe this film, as there is much charm within its ambitions, which may not go delivered upon thoroughly enough for the film to really stand firm, yet remain respectable, partially because its ambitions of amusement go delivered fairly thoroughly upon, more often than not. Much of the humor isn't actually all that terribly original, yet it's still so very well-structured, with extreme Mel Brooks-like absurdity, married with a kind of down-to-earth tone that's surprisingly quite comfortably even and effective, resulting in many back-to-back chuckles, broken up by some hearty laughs, and that streak is much more consistent than the number of fall-flats. For this, credit not only goes out to Will and Tania Rose, but to the slew of classic comic talents that, as put best by the consensus, fill this film to the gills, and understandably so, because when you've a cast like this, you're gonna want to use it. From Milton Berle, Terry-Thomas, Dick Shawn and Buddy Hackett to the sea of worthwhile cameos, this film is packed with comedy classics who really show how they got be such legends, as each and every member of the colorful and mammoth cast is distinctive, memorable and bubbling with sparkling charisma that's all so very charming without the typically sharp comedic material, which makes that charm all the sharper. Again, there's too much bloating to the film for it to surface all that high, yet when it does lock you in, which is quite often, it's hard to shake loose, as if you would want to, because, at the end of the way, with all of its flaws and hold-backs, this is a good old fashion, entertaining piece of "something a little less serious", hence the name they probably should have stuck with.
At the end of the mad, mad, mad, mad day, outside of the occasional slow spot, the film lives up to the freneticism in its title, boasting quite a few overbearing moments, made worse by a few fall-flat jokes and the general gratuitous enlongation that leaves the film to sloppy to really hit home, yet more often than not, the film satisfied, manipulating its scope for a genuine sense of adventure to liven up the mostly razor-sharp script, though not as thoroughly as the memorable, colorful and sprawling cast of classic blazing charismas, with the comic presence and thorough charm needed to help in making "Something a Little Less Serio-I mean "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (Should have stuck with the original title) a thoroughly entertaining comedy sweeper that's ultimately worth the long sit.
2.5/5 - Fair