Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Slammin' Salmon

Comedy troupes are an interesting anomaly in the movie world.  Sure, you have the megastars like Monty Python, okay, so there really isn't any other group that has been continuously successful on the big screen.  Some of my favorite groups, like The Kids in the Hall and The Whitest Kids U' Know, have only made one movie.  With that duly noted, I think that it's pretty cool that the guys in Broken Lizard have managed to put out their fifth movie, The Slammin' Salmon.  The group is best known for Super Troopers, but Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske have managed to write, act, and direct (well, Chandrasekhar has) in four pretty solidly stupid (and consistently funny) comedies before this.

The movie takes place in the Slammin' Salmon restaurant, named after owner/professional boxer Cleon Salmon (Michael Clarke Duncan).  Basically, Salmon is a moron.  He lost a lot of money gambling and needs the wait staff to bring in $20,000 in one night --- that's about twice as much as the restaurant's best night ever.  To sweeten the deal, a cash prize is offered to whichever waiter makes the most money, while the loser will be pummeled by Salmon.  The wait staff primarily consists of Broken Lizard, with Chandrasekhar playing a mentally ill (but medicated) guy, Heffernan as the wussy manager, Lemme as a failed actor, Stolhanske as a jerk, and Soter as a cook and a twin brother on his first day at work.  There are two waitresses, April Bowlby (the stereotypical blonde) and Cobie Smulders (the smart one), as well.  Obviously, some hijinks must ensue for this to be a comedy, so the wait staff performs some shenanigans and the customers cause problems. 

The supporting cast is fairly noteworthy, with Jim Gaffigan, Will Forte, Lance Henriksen, Morgan Fairchild, Vivica A. Fox, Olivia Munn, and Sendhil Ramamurthy making appearances; fans will also notice a few recurring actors from other Broken Lizard movies playing small roles.  All of these roles are shallow and most are lazy stereotypes, with few generating more than a smirk.  Ramamurthy's reactions to his girlfriend's (Munn's) inanities are mildly amusing, but the other recognizable actors are pretty useless here.  Of these supporting roles, only bit player Michael Weaver really gets an opportunity to be funny. 

That makes sense, though.  Movies about waiters are never about the customers because waiters will deal with dozens of customers per shift.  The main interest has to come from the waiters.  Unfortunately for the viewer, things don't work out so well in that department.  The bizarre mentally unstable performance from Chandrasekhar is probably the best of the bunch; when medicated he is terribly awkward and not funny, but when he's off his meds, he takes on another persona that is much, much more amusing.  Soter is okay in his dual role, but nothing special.  He plays twins for only one predictable joke, too, so he split his efforts for no real reason.  Lemme was decent as an actor, but he wasn't very funny, either.  Stolhanske was just terrible, though.  The two waitresses were inconsequential.  All in all, the wait staff was pretty disappointing.

That leaves the management as the only possible saviors for this movie, and they almost pull it off.  Kevin Heffernan is annoying as the manager, but he is the funniest actor in the group and that makes his scenes more tolerable than they should be.  A lot of his scenes are almost funny, but not quite there.  Luckily, Michael Clarke Duncan ends up carrying this film.  As the almost freakishly large boxer, Duncan dwarfs everyone else in the cast.  His booming voice and (let's be honest) stupid dialogue provide much of the motivation for the other characters.  Their reactions to him and his expectations for them offer a lot of opportunities for humorous interactions and the occasional profane one-liner.  I wouldn't say that his performance would steal the show in any comedy, but it is definitely the bright spot here.

Overall, this was a disappointing directorial debut for Heffernan.  Most of the problems were in the script and this was filmed during the 2008 writer's strike, so they might not have been allowed to improvise or improve their lines.  That doesn't excuse this movie, though.  The premise is uninspired (make money or get beat) and isn't even revealed to the waiters until halfway through the film, for some reason.  The entire first scene with Heffernan as a waiter should have been cut because it isn't funny and has nothing to do with his work as manager.  Soter had no real reason to play twins, but the fact that there are twins makes you wait for a "I thought you were the other one" moment.  That moment eventually arrived, but was not worth the wait.  The acting was competent from most, but only Duncan looked like he was having fun. 

Worse than that, Broken Lizard tried and failed to work outside of their comfort zone.  They are at their best with contextual humor, not one-liners.  I can't tell you how many Super Troopers quotes I have heard, but I can tell you that only people who have seen the movie laugh.  Since the waiters are on their own at each table, there is not much banter between the staff.  This means that the humor has to come from jokes, which Broken Lizard has never excelled at in the past, and certainly failed with here.  The best moments are when the established characters get screen time together, which includes almost all of Duncan's performance (which, I would like to reiterate, was funny).  Had the movie spent more time with the managers or the cooks and less time with customers, this film might have been saved.  Instead, we get a Waiting... knock-off, minus the stupid fun.

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