Judd Apatow teabagged the comedy landscape, and for better or worse, his sackly remnants have forever altered the style in which movies will be presented. The years following There’s Something About Mary were a never-ending flurry of bodily juices and gross-out gags, with studio execs battling to see who could commit the most heinous act. Apatow’s contribution has been to tip the scales back the way of Kevin Smith, so we’re seeing heartfelt mashed-ups with hard-ons. Hard R rated Comedies resplendent with dick and smart jokes rule the roost, and I for one am pleased. The only problem is that everyone now thinks that just by saying “fuck” every four words and making a few raunchy sex jokes, you’re suddenly a dry wit. Thus we have the problem with Man Overboard, which secretly thinks it’s an old school family comedy but tries to come off as rough core. It’s about as edgy as a circle, wobbling drunkenly from sentimental to slob like a popped collar frattard looking both ways before he leans in to tell you a racist joke. The film tries to go too far with the language and not far enough with the action. All that remains isn’t necessary a goddawful film, so much as just mildly lame. It is possible to make a feel-good black comedy, but Man Overboard misses the mark and falls right off the fucking pier.
CJ Mason (Matt Kaminsky) is a dedicated boat salesman. He has to be; he works in fucking Pasadena, which is a good 20 or 30 miles from the sea. Anyway, he’s a hell of a salesman, but his sales staff leaves much to be desired. The writers cast their lines in the old Cliche Sea and pulled out Frank (Floyd Vanbuskirk) — a Jimmy Buffett castaway complete with dated politico-bitching action, Kyle (Graham Norris) — a struggling young musician in a band that sounds a lot like A New Found Fall Out Herder, and last but certainly not least The Stevester (Jeffry Stein). Side note to authors, if ever you find a character whose name ends in “-ster”, throw him back to the ocean of Rob Schneider nicknamed characters that must never find the light of day. Stab him first and throw him back so sharks may feast on his flesh. Then stab the sharks so something eats them. Finally dump oil in the water and light it. Remember that guy from Office Space who talked about the “O” face? Remember how he was only in two scenes? Never forget that. Tattoo it on your forehead.
Anyway, CJ is a helluva salesman. Why, he could sell a generic salesman joke to a cliched witticism you’d read in Reader’s Digest! He even sells, sells, sells while at the dinner table with his beleaguered wife Madeline (Brooke Baumer) and his two children Frick und Precocious. For some reason, CJ gets so irked by his militant father-in-law’s badgering he decides to buy a house he can’t afford across the street from his father-in-law. This is the lynch pin of the film. That a reasonably intelligent man would not only go into debt but also live closer to a man that nuns spit on. The premise then involves CJ getting taken in by the slick salesman Johnny Cross (Mel Fair). CJ has to increase business at the boat shop so he can pay for his big ol’ expensive house, and Johnny is the answer to his white people problem.
See here’s the rub. Johnny’s a sociopath. I know this because he’s referred to as a sociopath at least four times during the film, including on the back cover of the DVD case. Johnny lies to customers and makes wild deals. Then again, so does CJ. CJ makes Johnny his sales manager, and Johnny promptly goes apeshit. He starts calling everyone motherfucker and cockbanger, zapping Jimmy Buffett with a tazer, and taking pictures of the Stevester banging a woman who ain’t his wife. As if tazing Jerry Garcia wasn’t enough, Johnny has to threaten to cut off Frank’s daughter’s legs — going so far as to sneak into their home and cutting all the legs off her dolls. He uses just enough torture so the guys won’t quit, mind you, but to make them sell more. He won’t let them quit, he wants them to sell better. And this is where the logic of the film starts to take a nosedive.
This film is structured as if it were an old Steve Martin or John Candy family romp like Summer Rental or Father of the Bride. It may be mistakenly convinced it’s as smart as Planes, Trains, and Automobiles because hey, Steve Martin goes off on Edie McClurg and says “fuck” a bunch of times too! And they make ball jokes! But the humor is totally tonally off. They’re mixing sitcomy slapstick with raunchy sex and vulgarity, and it just doesn’t work. It’d be like watching an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” tailored for Showtime. We see Raymond fingerbanging Deborah, and Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts taking turns calling Robert a fucktard. Sure it might be funny, but it’s kind of out of place with the way things are structured, and it’s really awkward to watch. CJ’s wife, who was outstanding (as was most of the rest of the cast), has a scene where she whips out a vibrator and loudly pleasures herself to mock her husband while he makes a business call in bed. It’d be funnier if she didn’t seem like someone’s mom. Your mom got fucked once, otherwise there wouldn’t be a you, but nobody wants to think about that or what position or how hard…SEE? Do you see how weird that feels? That’s kind of the problem with Man Overboard. It’s like listening to a staged reading of 9 ½ Weeks by your family at the Thanksgiving table.
The actors are good, with the notable exception of Johnny Cross. Mel Fair isn’t a bad actor; he’s just horribly miscast. Johnny’s a sociopath — as well we all know — and so you want a little bit of mania or edge to him. He’s too tame in the role, more like a really angry guidance counselor. Sure he’s threatening your life and maybe he might kill you, but how do you take someone like that seriously? He’s the wrong shade of douchebag, as if Bill Lumberg were trying to play Patrick Bateman: “Hmmm, yeah, I’m gonna need you to eat her pussy please this weekend. Yeeeeaaaah, and go ahead and listen to Sports for me, would you mind? Greeeeaatt.”
Oliver Robins does his best with the shaky script by Ashley Scott Meyers and Nathan Ives, but his contribution seems to make this film EXACTLY as it’s showing on the page. The tone goes from silly to dark and creepy to sentimental on every page, and Robins basically shoots it the way it reads no matter how illogical it reads. How do you take a film seriously that ends with a sell-off when this isn’t the 80’s or a “Saved By the Bell” episode? And it would require too many spoilers to explain just how inexplicable and shitballs retarded the logic behind the selling contest is when everything should have been settled with either a shotgun or a hurricane. This is just proof the Poltergeist curse is undying and far-reaching (Robins played Robbie the son in Poltergeist I and II). Sorry you came out of semi-retirement for this, Ollie. You should have just let the fucking clown eat you.
I feel bad about Man Overboard because if they had bothered to leave out all the nonsense swearing and sex-jokes, it probably would have killed as an ABC Family film. I don’t blame Meyers and Ives because nobody wants to be responsible for bringing more of that into the world. Man Overboard is a forgettable little comedy that won’t do any long-lasting damage. Nobody committed any crimes against the film gods that can’t be easily penanced with a few explosive indie art flicks. This’ll be one of those resume fillers nobody pays attention to, like that summer you worked at Old Navy. We all need the paycheck and experience.
Brian Prisco lives in a pina down by the mer-port of Burbank, by way of the cheesesteak-laden arteries of Philadelphia. Any and all grumblings can be directed to priscogospel at hotmail dot com.