``Let's face it, Steve,' says Emory Leeson (Dudley Moore), ``you and I lie for a living.'
In Tony Bill's ``Crazy People,' a humorless satire of the advertising world, Emory is a Madison Avenue troll at the end of his rope. His wife has walked out of their suburban house, taking the furniture with her. Emory is suffering from writer's block.``Novelists have writer's block,' screams his partner, Steve (Paul Reiser). ``All you do is write little slogans to go with the pictures.'
In a manic burst of energy, Emory creates a dozen new ad campaigns for everything from Volvo (``Boxy but good') to United Airlines (``Most of our passengers get there alive'). He calls it ``truth in advertising.'
Steve gently carts him away to a private mental hospital, where the first patient he meets is a sweet little old lady. ``Hello,' she says, ``I'm William Holden.' That turns out to be the funniest line in the movie.
It is the whimsical idea of ``Crazy People' that, through some copy boy's mix-up, Emory's ``truthful' campaigns somehow reach all of the national magazines and appear on television, where they become instant hits. Sales soar.
``Crazy People,' written by Mitch Markowitz and filmed in Chatham, Va., is a feature film equivalent to those commercials that pretend to be sending themselves up. Its upside-down ad campaigns wouldn't rate a smile in a college humor magazine, at least in part because they knowingly celebrate the system they are supposed to be satirizing. The concept is high but fraudulent.
Some of the other advertisers who receive prominent mention in the film: Jaguar, Saab, Sony, Pontiac, AT&T and Paramount Pictures, which produced ``Crazy People.'
Chrysler Motors and its chairman (as well as advertising spokesman), Lee Iacocca, come in for the kind of smarmy, facetious treatment that would seem tame at a celebrity roast.
The movie's attitude toward the mentally and emotionally disturbed is even worse. If ``Crazy People' displayed an ounce of real wit, one wouldn't care, but it's so smug in its ignorance that it begins to look elitist.
The sanitarium where Emory goes for treatment makes White Sulphur Springs look like a fleabag. The patients are all charming and certainly well-heeled.
They include a beautiful young woman who is afraid of everything (played by Daryl Hannah in a very decent performance), a fellow who can communicate only by little cards on which he has printed ``hello,' another guy with a hang-up on Saabs and others so cuddly they seem to be imitating teddy bears.
It comes as no particular surprise that when the honchos of Emory's ad agency come to the hospital, begging him to create more campaigns, the results are miracle cures and economic success for all.
It's the American way of movie making.
Moore gives a steadfast performance of consistent energy and few smiles.
Hannah is the only pleasant surprise, while the one person who creates a truly comic character is Mercedes Ruehl, as a doctor who may be just a hairline away from being a patient. There is an abandon and a liberating nuttiness about everything she does that shows up the sappy conventions of the rest of the movie.