A screenwriter, director, producer, and occasional actor whose unabashed taste for the bizarre has resulted in such wildly diverse efforts as the indescribably outlandish three-armed comic opus The Dark Backward and the kid-friendly DreamWorks hit Small Soldiers, Chicago native Adam Rifkin got his start in community-access television before making the move to Hollywood to try his luck in feature films.
Educated at the Chicago Academy for Video and Performing Arts and determined to make a name for himself in film, Rifkin launched his career with the films Never on Tuesday, Tale of Two Sisters (featuring poetry by Charlie Sheen), and The Invisible Maniac (directed under the pseudonym Rif Coogan). In 1991, he gained gaining notoriety with The Dark Backward, a grotesque tale of a terminally unfunny comedian (memorable portrayed by Judd Nelson) whose career is heading nowhere until a third arm inexplicably sprouts from his back. The film featured Bill Paxton as a chubby-chasing degenerate, Wayne Newton as a sleazy talent agent, and James Caan portraying the most incompetent doctor in the history of cinema. Additional appearances by Rob Lowe and Lara Flynn Boyle may have served well to increase the exposure of The Dark Backward, but in the end, the film was simply too bizarre to earn anything more than a small cult following. After directing a pair of sleazed-out B-movie bombs, Rifkin made a bid for the big time as the writer and director of the Charlie Sheen action comedy The Chase (1994), but scathing reviews and disastrous box-office business soon found Rifkin withdrawing into familiar low-budget territory with the talky comedy drama Something About Sex in 1998.
As luck would have it, Rifkin's script for the kiddie-comedy Mouse Hunt resulted in the biggest hit DreamWorks studios had seen to date (it also launched the career of Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski), providing the longtime filmmaker with some shred of respectability in the studio system and leading to a lucrative deal to pen the script for Joe Dante's Small Soldiers. Back behind the camera, Rifkin would please KISS fans with his retro-minded comedy Detroit Rock City before skewering Tinseltown with the showbiz mockumentary Welcome to Hollywood and then taking a momentary detour into romance with the relationship comedy drama Without Charlie. While Rifkin's 2002 would-be redemption tale, Night at the Golden Eagle, may not have been seen by many, it did draw some of the best reviews of his directorial career while simultaneously signaling a shift toward more mature themes. Rifkin next teamed with writer David Berenbaum to adapt author Jason Lethcoe's popular children's novel Zoom Academy for the big screen, and then pulled triple duty as actor, writer, and director in the philosophical caveman comedy Homo Erectus.