This is Spinal Tap

Combine the rockumentary and the documentary and the result is This is Spinal Tap, the hilarious film that is enjoying a limited re-release with a restored 35mm print. Spinal Tap, a little over fifteen years old, still has the sharp bite and wit it had when it first came out. The film is a fictional documentary about an aging British rock band (self-proclaimed 'loudest' band in England) embarking on their first US tour in a number of years. The real beauty of Spinal Tap was that the actors improvised most of the dialogue. The general outline of the story and all the songs were present beforehand, but the real magic comes from watching these actors say idiotic things while in character.

Spinal Tap is guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest, Best in Show, Almost Heroes), lead vocalist David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean, Little Nicky, Mystery, Alaska) and bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer, The Simpsons, Dick). Marti DiBergi (director Rob Reiner, The Muse, The Story of Us) is the interviewer. Together, these four principals sketched out most of the main details, letting everybody come up with their own lines. Looking back, one can see a virtual parade of celebrities including Billy Crystal, Dana Carvey, Paul Shaffer, Fran Drescher, Fred Willard and Howard Hesseman.

All is not well on their tour of the US to promote the album Smell the Glove. The venues are much smaller and the cancellations keep coming. They are having problems with the album cover and airplay, and there is tension in the band. DiBergi has privy to all of their conversations and also takes time to interview them together and separately. It is the small comments by the band that makes Spinal Tap hilarious. Let these improvisation artists go and their imagination brings forth all sorts of ridiculous things. Tufnel has an amp that goes to 11. The band gets lost from their dressing room to the stage. Although all their drummers died mysteriously, their current drummer feels he has the law of averages on his side. It is this sort of humor that makes Spinal Tap, and other mockumentarys by Guest, including Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show priceless.

The scary thing is that Spinal Tap could be a real band. They have the swagger and braggadocio necessary for hard rock. With hair metal making a small comeback, they do not seem completely out of place. Moreover, they are complete idiots. It does not take that much intelligence to make it in the music business, just look at some of today's bands. Songs like Sex Farm and Big Bottom sound outrageous because they are lowbrow and are like a lot of what is on the radio. To confuse matters even further, Guest, McKean, and Smalls released some actual albums in character. So many so-called comedies today are not funny, although they have written scripts where the authors can think about their jokes. It is a testament to Guest, McKean, Reiner, and Shearer that they can come up with such original and funny material literally on the fly.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 23 minutes, Rated R for language.

Back to Movies