These are the facts about “Crazy in Alabama” as we know them after the first five minutes:
1. Lucille (Melanie Griffith) has killed her husband and is toting around his severed head in a Tupperware container on her way out to find stardom in Hollywood.
2. Peejoe (Lucas Black), her 13-year-old nephew, is in love with Lucille.
3. Lucille’s brother Dove (David Morse) is the town of Industry’s white undertaker.
The information that got my attention and interested me most after this little preamble was that narrator Peejoe matter-of-factly told us that he was in love with his glamorous, murdering aunt. Oh boy!, I thought. This is going to be a quirky incest comedy with a beautiful middle-aged woman (for the record, Griffith, 42, is playing 34) and a cute, wiry little boy! This is going to be better than going to watch the local middle schoolers play shirts-and-skins football! I can’t wait!
But wait I did, and disappointed I was, because “Crazy in Alabama” isn’t about how moonshine makes the old and young do strange, amorous things. Instead it’s a painfully obvious tale with far too many diverging parts. The first hour and a half is more like watching two annoying shows on television, like flipping between the fiercely moral “Touched by an Angel” and the quirky “Ally McBeal.” In one scene, you’ve got Lucille heading cross-country, hubby’s head in tow, as she steals cars, gets free meals, acquires a chauffer and of course finds stardom in “Bewitched” (and, oh, the pain of seeing one of my favorite old TV shows disgraced by association here) five minutes after checking into the Chateau Marmont.
Then the film switches gears back to Industry, where Peejoe replaces the fire in his belly for Aunt Lucille with segregation activism, standing up for his black contemporaries when they try to swim in the city pool. By the end of the film, Peejoe has shaken hands with Martin Luther King, Jr., gotten his picture on the front of Look magazine and witnessed a murder that can put the bigoted, racist town sheriff (Meat Loaf, who shed his “Fight Club” bitch tits for the role) behind bars for good. Uncle Dove keeps telling Peejoe to leave well enough alone and mind his own business, masking his own integration leanings, but eventually helps Peejoe in his quest for revealing the truth to Industry.
So there we are, switching back and forth between these two equally pathetic movies rolled into one, when Lucille is arrested for her husband’s murder. She’s okay with this, though, because she’s achieved her goal of making it big in Hollywood (and, golly gee, she even did it without sleeping her way to the top, because things were just this easy back in 1965). Lucille is hauled back to Industry and put on trial, where she weeps before the judge about the abuses her husband piled upon her during their years of marriage. For example, evil mean husband made her wait until halftime when her water broke to take her to the hospital. The nerve! The humanity! I’ll not spoil the verdict for those of you still planning to see Antonio Banderas’ directorial debut, as Columbia Pictures thinks that’s enough to get people into theatres.
It’s sad to think of screenwriter Mark Childress, who adapted his own novel, sitting at his desk trying desperately to think of a harsh-yet-funny cruelty to assign to Lucille’s husband. There he sits, trying so hard to make it all work: the Tupperware, the halftime trick, Lucille’s seven children who are all named after movie stars like Marlon. I suspect that it did work in novel form; tales filled with eccentricities like this often do. But it’s hard to translate amusingly odd plot points in a novel that is so good because of those points to a medium in which hijinks tends to be all (“There’s Something about Mary”) or nothing (“Schindler’s List”).
It’s even sadder to walk out of “Crazy in Alabama” and think about how its heart is in the right place. Maybe scores of housewives across the country will follow Lucille’s example and chase their dreams to the West coast with their husband’s heads by their sides. Or maybe all, let’s see, zero remaining segregated swimming pools will finally be made multicolored. Of course, there’s the slim chance that this movie will do none of those things and we won’t be subjected to the sequel, “Crazy in Ala-Bam!-A,” starring Emeril Lagasse, who will use the severed head in a delicious chunky meat sauce.
But I can dream, right?