I was not alive in the 1990s. Naturally, there are plenty of cultural artifacts from that period outside of my understanding. Beanie Babies. The Macarena. Tamagotchis. Ross Perot. Whatever “nu metal” is. Saturday Night Live spin-off films certainly earn a spot on that list.
I have been told by those older and wiser than myself that “Saturday Night Live” was once a cultural juggernaut. SNL has been around for nearly 50 years and has rocket-launched some of the brightest comedic stars into the pop cultural stratosphere. Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Dana Carvey, David Spade, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, and my favorite, the late, great Norm Macdonald, to name a few.
Within the past almost five decades, SNL’s influence has not been limited to late-night television, as NBC’s flagship sketch show has taken a crack at the silver screen on numerous occasions. Despite beginning with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s hilariously memorable “The Blues Brothers” in 1980 and continuing with the likable “Wayne’s World” in 1992, SNL expeditions into Hollywood throughout the rest of the 90s were unfortunately dismal, forgettable failures. I would swear on my health and bank account that nobody in their right mind has ever sought to watch “It’s Pat” or “A Night at the Roxbury” since their regrettable releases in the last decade of the old millennium.
Even since I began watching SNL, when my parents started letting me stay up that late, the show’s cultural reach has been thankfully limited to its native television and YouTube clips, sparring the movie-going public from witnessing a sequel to whatever Al Franken’s “Stuart Saves His Family” was. Now, that is changing.
Created by and starring SNL-based comedy group Please Don’t Destroy, Peacock’s “Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain” continues the show’s habit of outright missing the mark in their spin-off motion pictures.
Set in North Carolina’s Appalachian mountains and filmed in nearby Charlotte, “Foggy Mountain” follows the surreal misadventures of the group’s trio — Ben Marshall, John Higgins, and Martin Herlihy — as they attempt to discover a legendary treasure worth over $100 million. Along the way, the three encounter obstacles from a duo of greedy female park rangers, a manic cult leader, multiple self-inflicted wounds, and the fickleness of their friendship.
“Foggy Mountain” is a film tailor-made for Please Don’t Destroy’s existing fan base. Rising to niche internet fame during the COVID-19 pandemic, the trio’s mix of surrealist humor and rapid delivery brought them not only to the attention of younger comedy fans but SNL. Since 2021, Please Don’t Destroy has consistently been one of the show’s few highlights, continuing the legacy of Andy Samberg’s The Lonely Island in creating three-to-five-minute pre-filmed shorts.
Please Don’t Destory’s sketches, mostly set inside the confines of their 30 Rock-shared office, are perfect for SNL. However, when expanded to fit nearly 90 minutes of screentime and taken out of NYC and into the Tar Heel State’s wilderness, the trio’s humor weakens. When the screen is occupied by the group, the writing is as tight, funny, and bizarre as before. However, when additional characters are present, the dialogue becomes stilted, unnatural, and most importantly, unfunny. While the group’s fans may ignore these qualities, viewers unfamiliar with the trio may reach for the remote.
One exception is the appearance of late-night legend and comic genius Conan O’Brien. O’Brien portrays Ben’s demanding, greedy, and knockoff-Bass-Pro-Shop-owning father, who delivers some of the film’s best lines in his trademark quirky manner. O’Brien, who usually does not appear in front of the camera unless he’s playing himself, gives “Foggy Mountain” a level of comedic credibility despite the film’s shortcomings.
Speaking of comedic credibility, Judd Apatow, director of previous box office hits such as “the 40-Year-Old Virgin” and television great “Freaks and Geeks,” produced “Foggy Mountain.” Behind-the-scenes SNL veteran Paul Briganti, who directs many Please Don’t Destroy shorts, helms the film’s director’s chair. Current SNL cast members Bowen Yang and Chloe Troast also appear.
Despite involvement from many comedy bonafides, “Foggy Mountain” fails by attempting to stretch surrealist humor intended for quick-fire sketches into an entire feature. Previous SNL spin-off films have also had this same issue. While Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin’s “Coneheads” were tolerable in bite-size pieces, having them fill an entire hour-and-a-half was asking too much of audiences.
“Foggy Mountain” is not entirely unredeemable. Please Don’t Destroy members unleash a plethora of smartly written lines made to please anyone who likes good comedy. However, in the grand scheme of an entire film, “Foggy Mountain” is a failed experiment showing what works in a three-minute hit does not usually translate to the big screen.
Please Don’t Destroy should not despair. They are the sole reason I look forward to SNL on Saturday night and are bringing the program to the attention of millions of younger fans. My advice to them is to simply stick to their formula.
“Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain” is now streaming on Peacock.