THE FLINTSTONES IN Viva Rock Vegas is a brutal statement of pain, loneliness, loss, and, mostly, despair. While the ostensive title character, Fred Flintstone (Mark Addy), represents the fragile goodness of the everyman, all around him characters fall into the kind of desperation that marks the end of a millennium and the sense that a golden age that existed only in our memories has now officially come to an end.
The tale begins in the hollow confines of the wealthy Slaghoople household. Wilma, daughter of an abandoned hope, is trying to celebrate her birthday. Material goods, such as a young Paleolithic woman must have dreamt of, are showered upon her. Still, the elephant-based vacuum cleaner and enslaved dinosaur appliances do not lighten her mood. She seeks true love, but her only model of matrimony is the discordant marriage of convenience that her parents have perpetrated as a fraud upon her young life.
Her mother, appropriately portrayed by Joan Collins, is a faded beauty whose only true attachment is wealth. Her husband is the pathetic, doddering Colonel Slaghoople, played with heartbreaking accuracy by Harvey Korman.
Just as the colonel is a man of means who utterly lacks success, Korman is the classic second banana who stood, for his entire career, one foot outside the circle of comedic leading men. Here, in a wrenching performance, Korman draws upon his life experience to represent a man whose wife admits that she does not love him, whose friends humor him, and whose mind is deteriorating so rapidly that he cannot remember whether the celebration is for his birthday or his daughter's.
Wilma, pained to tears by the mocking charade that is her life, runs off, leaving her heartless friends and pointless wealth in order to find a new existence amongst the Mesozoic morass of Bedrock, the impoverished town that lies beneath her parents' mansion.
Mostly, though, she seeks to escape Chip Rockefeller, her fiancé, whose empty good looks and sneer of cold command hide a complete absence of humanity. While all of Wilma's friends are envious (envy being one of the few human emotions still accessible to the upper class harpies who congregate about her) of her "relationship" with Chip, Wilma senses, in some inexpressible way, that Chip cannot possibly love her for herself, because, dwelling as she does among the soulless beasts of the bourgeois elite, Wilma knows she does not as yet have a self.
She flees, then, into a world of poverty, a world whose exuberance she mistakes for a lack of despair.
Meanwhile, dwelling amongst the rabble of Bedrock, Fred Flintstone and his oafish sidekick, the mentally diminished Barney Rubble (Stephen Baldwin, in the role he was born to play), skip stones upon the tar-strewn beaches, complaining of their inability to find love. True, they share a small trailer together, and in one scene the question of their sexual attraction is raised (Barney falls upon Fred's back, in a mime of the physical act of love, and the otherworldly Gazoo asks if they are "mating"), but it's clear that whatever they share is but a prison-house parody of the true romance they seek.
As in all films of this sort, we know that the Bovary-esque Wilma and the brutish Fred will find each other, but this very inevitability merely accentuates the meaninglessness of all such encounters. While Wilma flees one world's unreality, she merely accepts another's, as though anything were better than what is merely given, even if it's only that which is given next.
Their "love," such as it is, must of course face trials: Chip Rockefeller, his heart polluted with thoughts of Wilma's wealth, seeks to destroy the relationship that she and Fred have built on such a flimsy foundation. It's easy: a bit of money separates them. The ease with which Chip succeeds in his plan indicates only the illusory quality of all love.
Even if Fred and Wilma do reunite (rather than give away the ending of a film that, by being a "prequel," can have no true surprises, I will merely say that whether or not they reunite, no true union can occur among the stony vales and primitive dwellings of their prehistoric world), what can it mean if they were torn asunder with such ease, and by something as shallow as wealth?
Indeed, this message of desire and lack is well accented in the film by the surrounding characters and circumstances: there is Gazoo, who calls himself "great," yet admits to being incapable of feeling; there are the inhuman manservants who mill about the rocky halls of the wealthy, their ridged foreheads indicating their lowly status; there are the beasts in bondage who act as machines, sucking up garbage with their trunks, beating eggs with their leathery wings, pecking out photographs with their tired beaks; there are the stone buildings, cold, imposing, dead.
When I saw this film, an audience of children sat silently, staring as if at the primal scene, not laughing, not moving. Afterwards, one 5-year-old attempted to give what he thought was the proper response to having seen any film: "That was a good movie," he said, as he believed he should. His parents and older brother could only look down upon him, their eyes hollow, not wishing to debunk the innocence which this youth, in truth, could only mime, such innocence being, forever, that which is always already lost.
The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas is playing at Century El Con (202-3343), Century Park (620-0750), De Anza (745-2240), El Dorado (745-6241) and Foothills (742-6174) cinemas.