KRIPPENDORF’S TRIBE is a silly, scatological, confused comedy about a college professor who concocts a story about finding a lost tribe of people in New Guinea. The professor, played by Richard Dreyfuss, pulls his own children and colleges into this scam and convinces college trustees and the public that such a fictional tribe exists. Containing crude language and a great deal of scatological humor, this movie seems to suggest that it is OK to lie to cover your failings.
KRIPPENDORF’S TRIBE is one of those movies that shows promise but quickly descends into scatological humor and ends up very confused, so much so that the screening audience walked away muttering negative comments about the movie.
Professor Krippendorf (Richard Dreyfuss) has just returned from the outback of New Guinea with his three young children. His wife has just died, and he is having trouble playing Mr. Mom. Furthermore, he received a $100,000 grant to go to New Guinea to find and to study a lost tribe. Because of the death of his wife, he failed to find the tribe and complete his study.
However, the university administration does not know that he failed to complete the study and expects great things from his findings. The seriousness of his situation is made clear to him when he is informed by an
off-handed statement of the Dean of the Anthropology Department that another professor has gone to jail for fraudulently misappropriating a grant.
Professor Krippendorf is told this disturbing information just before he is scheduled to give a major lecture on his findings. His lecture was scheduled by a former student of his, Veronica Micelli (Jenna Elfman), who is now a fellow faculty member and is still infatuated with him. Adding to all this pressure is Professor Ruth Allen (Lily Tomlin), who suspects that Krippendorf is a fraud.
Up to this point, the movie is on track. These are real problems and there are real touches of humanity shown by all involved. However, as soon as Professor Krippendorf starts his lecture, the movie takes a bad turn. In front of all of his colleagues, Professor Krippendorf decides to lie by claiming that he did find a lost tribe whose culture somehow resembles the struggles he is having as a single dad. Initially, his description of this fictional tribe offers some humor, but soon it descends into very banal, scatological territory. Furthermore, Professor Krippendorf must now support his fraud by screening a film of the tribe for his colleagues. Since there is no tribe, he must create one by filming his children made up as natives and performing obscene rituals in
the backyard of his house. Professor Krippendorf inter-cuts the film of his children with real footage from New Guinea. Only Professor Ruth Allen recognizes that this tribe is too unique and that a fraud is being
Still, the audience hopes that the truth will come out. Dr. Krippendorf’s oldest daughter, Shelly (Nathasha Lyonne), keeps arguing for the truth and is the moral anchor in this amoral family. Professor Krippendorf gets offered a TV program on the new anthropology channel. Veronica throws herself at him, and he films their love-making and uses it on TV as an example of the tribe’s mating habits. From this moment of perverse debauchery, the movie completely unravels. Instead of coming up with a moral ending, even Shelly is dragged into the fraud. Furthermore, the fraud is so pervasive that, by the end, who cares?
KRIPPENDORF’S TRIBE could have been a satire, like BROADCAST NEWS, showing the dark underside of the anthropological community. However, instead of taking the moral perspective necessary for good satire, in the end KRIPPENDORF’S TRIBE accepts the fact that fraud is all right as long as it works out, and nobody is hurt. Of course, people are hurt. The academic study of mankind is diminished. A real insight into culture is confused by the outrageous habits of this fictional tribe. This movie is not an expose of a Margaret Mead who doctored the books in her own studies, but rather it is a go-with-the-flow, what-does-it-matter-anyway, pathetic portrait of
filmmaking with no moral compass as well as a lot of bad language and obscene images.
Michael Eisner, Chairman & CEO, Walt Disney Company
Richard W. Cook, Chairman
(Buena Vista, Caravan, Hollywood, Miramax, & Touchstone Pictures)
500 South Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521
(PaPa, B, Ab, LLL, VV, S, N, A, D, M) Pagan worldview with some moral elements & many immoral elements; 13 profanities & 24 obscenities & a lot of scatological humor; slapstick violence including simulating circumcision with a hatchet & attacking people with a body-part sheath; alcohol use; smoking & drug use suggested; and, fraud commended & rewarded.