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A slice of cheese

Former bad-movie TV host carves up Hollywood turkeys in new book

Posted: Thursday, August 17, 2000

MINNEAPOLIS -- Michael J. Nelson is a bad-movie addict. And luckily for readers, there is no 12-step program for him.

Season after season, the former head writer and host of cable TV's ''Mystery Science Theater 3000'' endured one cinematic abomination after another -- from the living severed head epic ''The Brain that Wouldn't Die'' to the earthworms-revolting-against-humanity saga ''Squirm.''

Now, in ''Mike Nelson's Movie Megacheese'' (HarperCollins), Nelson has compiled 65 hilarious short essays that skewer bloated Hollywood blockbusters and big-name stars with the same wit he used to slice up low-budget stinkers.

The book, published in June, is already in its third printing. A few samples:

n '''The Craft' (a movie about teen-age witches) is the kind of movie that makes you wonder if we shouldn't just take a couple years off from movies and play badminton instead.''

n ''... if you liked 'The Postman' (Kevin Costner's postapocalyptic bomb), you might also enjoy a nine-hour coach flight to Fargo, North Dakota, with a small child kicking your seat the entire way.''

n ''(Prop comic) Carrot Top himself is a performer who defies categorization. Is he an idiot or merely a moron? Does he make me nauseous, or simply headachy and kind of sad?''

Watching cheesy movies is a habit that's hard to shake for Nelson, who joined the ''Mystery Science'' writing crew in the show's second season and later took over for creator Joel Hodgson as the stuck-in-space human who razzes Grade-Z movies with his robots Crow and Tom Servo.

''I watch bad movies in my own home because I'm insane,'' Nelson says. ''I've been driven mad by them, and like heroin, I keep wanting more, even though it's collapsing my heart.''

What especially grates on Nelson are the much-hyped summer releases such as ''Mission: Impossible 2'' that are hard for audiences to avoid.

''I hate the assumption that this is going to be your entertainment, this is what we've issued you,'' he says. ''You will go because people will talk about it because it's hard to miss. It's like a big drift net and eventually your gills are going to get caught in it.''

He also criticizes Hollywood's penchant for sequels of sequels, and movies made from TV shows -- especially cartoons -- meant to capitalize on baby boomers' nostalgia (''Brendan Fraser has played about 12 Jay Ward cartoon characters now, I think,'' Nelson says).

In his book, Nelson cites 1997's ''Batman and Robin,'' starring George Clooney as the Caped Crusader and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the villain Mr. Freeze, as not the worst movie ever but ''the worst THING ever.''

''It was unwatchable,'' he says. ''There was supposed to be action and it's just kind of lots of random shots close-up of boots and things. It just made no sense, visually or script-wise.''

Pauly Shore and Jim Carrey are in Nelson's pantheon of unfunny, irritating film comics, but ''for really making me want to just run screaming,'' he says, there's no beating Adam Sandler.

''Is he mentally disabled? Is he making fun of people who are? What level am I watching him? Why the baby voice? I don't get the point of view, at all. And his shrillness. Wow. I can't say enough.''

Nelson, 35, brings Midwestern sensibilities to his lampooning of Hollywood. He was born and grew up in Geneva, Ill., outside of Chicago and moved in junior high to Grantsburg, Wis., about 60 miles northeast of Minneapolis. He is a big fan of the classic comedies of the Marx Brothers, and his favorite movie is the quirky 1983 British comedy ''Local Hero,'' about an oil company rep trying to buy up a Scottish village.

Some of the articles in ''Movie Megacheese'' originally appeared in Home Theater magazine, which Nelson wrote for during his time at ''Mystery Science Theater.'' He now concentrates his energy on TimmyBigHands.com, an Internet humor site he founded with other former ''Mystery Science Theater'' writers and performers, including Kevin Murphy (the voice of robot Servo) and Bill Corbett (Crow).

TimmyBigHands.com was launched on April Fool's Day. The goal was to update the Web site daily, but Nelson says the group plans to cut back to weekly updates.

''We recently sort of came to the conclusion at the same time that we're not all that thrilled with the Internet,'' Nelson says. He says the group is working on other projects and will probably take another stab at TV.

''Mystery Science Theater,'' a cult TV favorite, started on a Twin Cities station and enjoyed a 10-season run until the Sci-Fi Channel pulled the plug last year. (The Sci-Fi Channel still shows reruns at 8 a.m. Central on Saturdays.)

''It was a fun experience,'' Nelson says. But he says the cost of reviving the show probably would be prohibitive.

As for Nelson, his next book will be a humorous novel.

''I don't want to sit and watch crappy movies for the rest of my life,'' he says. ''I think it would erode your soul.''

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On the Net:

Sci-Fi Channel ''MST3K'' site: http://www.scifi.com/mst3000

TimmyBigHands: http://www.timmybighands.com



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