American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Meet the Applegates" is yet another attempt to find humor behind the facade of middle-class suburbia, by revealing that a normal family is secretly bizarre. For some reasons these movies almost always center around eating habits. In "Parents" the parents ate human flesh, in "Mermaids" Mom prepared marshmallow kebabs, and in "Edward Scissorhands" the hero had lots of trouble picking up his food. Now we have a family of insects in human form. "Clean up your sugar," Mom tells the kids, "and for dessert you can have some rancid trash I found in a dumpster behind the 7-Eleven." The Applegates, we learn, are insects from deep in the Amazon rain forest - a rare species that can mimic the forms and customs of their hosts, while dining off of their garbage. They are such consummate masters of disguise, indeed, that even their pet is special; it's an insect that can assume the shape of a dog.
The movie involves the attempts of the Applegates to blend into suburban life, despite the suspicions of their next-door neighbor, an exterminator. Like the pod people in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," they presumably have plans to take over society, replacing one family at a time until everyone is an insect and the charade can be discontinued.
Dick Applegate is played by Ed Begley Jr. - tall, blond and vaguely Gary Cooperish - who is always being cast as a typical American in movies where the typical is bizarre. Remember him as one of William Hurt's goofy brothers in "The Accidental Tourist," or Roseanne Barr's husband in "She-Devil"? This time he's a stern team leader who delivers dinnertime lectures on the correct mispronunciation of "nuclear." Jane Applegate is Stockard Channing in a perky blond wig, like Doris Day with a nasty little secret. Dabney Coleman makes a cameo appearance as "Aunt Bea," an insect that disguises itself as a woman but forgets that human women do not have Dabney Coleman moustaches.
The Aunt Bea joke gets old in a hurry, and indeed "Meet the Applegates" is a one-joke movie. If you think it is funny that insects would serve a large bar of chocolate in place of a pot roast, then you will laugh, once, when they do so, but as the same kinds of jokes are replayed over and over the movie gradually grows dispiriting.
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