'These go to 11.'
“It’s like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.”
“We’ve got armadillos in our trousers. It’s really quite frightening.”
It’s exhausting, and simultaneously exhilarating, to recall all the great lines from Rob Reiner’s 1984 uber-classic “This is Spinal Tap.” The film is so iconic, and so mercilessly spot on with its satire, that demands to be seen over again.
Few films achieve perfection. “Spinal Tap” flirts with the notion.
The story by now is the stuff of comedy legend. Spinal Tap, a heavy metal outfit from the U.K., embarks on a U.S. tour to promote its latest release, “Smell the Glove.”
But the band’s fame is waning, and they find themselves dealing with show cancellations, dust ups over its new album cover and other humiliations which cut the band’s collective ego down to the quick.
Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest prove utterly convincing as the addled rockers. They also wrote and performed their own music, nailing the swagger and the melodies.
It wasn’t enough for the trio to mimic heavy metal’s ear-deafening wallop. The film features “outtakes” from the band’s earlier incarnations. That lets them riff on the ’60s, delivering faux Flower Power anthems like “Gimme Some Money” and “(Listen to the) Flower People.”
Kudos to the editing team behind the film, cutting away whenever a droll line is said – which happens aplenty. It’s that timing that flows throughout the production, which clearly drew upon the improv skills of its key players.
The film’s story arc is just as compelling. When Tap still thinks its a chart-topping act the guitarist throws a fit over the size of the bread in the green room. The band’s manager denies their shrinking fan base and smooths over the initial insults – until the incredibly shrinking tour proves too big to cover up.
The cheeky cameos come at you in a blur, from a glorious Fran Drescher before she stereotyped herself as “The Nanny” to Bruno Kirby bemoaning Tap’s lack of class – and staying power. Blink and you’ll miss Billy Crystal as a mime.
And let’s praise Paul Shaffer for his obsequious record promoter who implores the band to kick his posterior when a record store promotion falls preposterously flat.
Reiner’s first film is a stunner, a comedy which set the template for the mockumentary format and remains its high point.
And darn if the make-believe band’s songs aren’t a pleasure to hear when they’re not side-splitting funny. Even “Listen to the Flower People” nails the psychedelic era while setting up camp in your head.
It’s hard to reconcile that Reiner, who went on to direct “A Few Good Men,” “Stand By Me” and “When Harry Met Sally,” couldn’t sustain that creative streak. The assembled “Tap” team have had mixed success as well, but the highs have been glorious.
Hair metal hasn’t mattered since Jon Bon Jovi trimmed his formerly flowing locks. “This is Spinal Tap” is both a relic and timeless, a permanent part of our pop culture landscape. Thank heavens for that.
DID YOU KNOW: Spinal Tap first played together on “The T.V. Show,” an ABC sketch comedy pilot from 1979.