RIORI Vol 3, Installment 98: David Gordon Green’s “Pineapple Express” (2008)



The Players…

Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Gary Cole and Rosie Perez, with Kevin Corrigan, Craig Robinson, and Amber Heard.


The Story…

Dale and Saul are the best of buds…so to speak. Dale relishes his unenviable job of a process server, throwing out subpoenas to unsuspecting catchers. Sure, it can stressful, but then there’s his pal Saul with the panacea: a veritable Eden of reefer.

But Saul doesn’t have the green thumb, no. He’s just Amazon. The distributor, and his reach is vast, is only as long as Saul’s supply line runs. And what funds the supply? Right, cold hard cash.

So what does Dale do when on the job? Right. Witness a murder at an alleged drug lord’s mansion. And then what does Dale do in a reefer-induced haze? Right. Seek out Saul and his product for solace. Right?

Nope. And now any hope of safety goes (wait for it) up in smoke.


The Rant

Let us speak frankly now about weed. And I ain’t talking gardening here. Blooms definitely not in the Burpee catalog.

My experiences with mary jane are few and far between. I’ve been partial to the legal, government sanctioned, actually dangerous drugs available at any SafeWay. Booze, caffeine and nicotine, the American Holy Trinity. Sure, I did have my fun with prescription abuse, but the worst that happened there was constant drowsiness and bitchin’ dreams about being awake. That and the patience to read dozens of books at a leisurely clip to which I have no recollection of reading. That sure as sh*t wasn’t amongst the microscopic warnings on the phial. Oh well.

(BTW: why are the risk warnings SO HUGE the legal drugs and f*cking cramped onto a postage stamp for the prescription drugs? Discuss)

I like beer. If you could see me now it shows. Moving on.

Weed. I is a decaf Cheech & Chong routine. For real, every time in my ancient, Phish-loving past I toked and fell fast asleep. Every. Damn. Time. I never felt the dopey joys and goofiness and chilling and ability to dissect every guitar chord on Santana’s self-titled debut along the curves of the Book of Psalms. Nope. Snore, snore and more. Wake up hours later with chili sauce slathering your nose enough times you figure out what a downer apparition you are under the influence of grass.

did sleep well though, complete with some bodacious dreams involving Heather Graham circa 1997.

Even in high school hanging with my stoner friends (I was the lone holdout) I got a metaphorical contact high. First and prob to no surprise I’m pretty liberal in my views about burning. Pot is a controlled substance nowadays, but back then I figured that it should’ve been treated as such. For booze and smokes? You gotta be of a certain age to partake, like 18 or so. You shouldn’t toke and drive, since it messes with your already flawed everyday judgment. You shouldn’t be high in public, because you are irritating and might shut down the local pizzeria. Control the substance. It’s not harmful, but too much weed may make you annoying.

Here’s a story. It’s from college. For those of you who went to one you’ll hear what I’m screaming. It’s one of those “there’s one in every crowd” story. Face it, you’ve been there.

Every solid dorm floor population at college is inhabited by a lot of stereotypes. The go-getter with his scholarship in finance. Some jock, an expert is some lesser-revered team sport (think lacrosse or cricket). The computer nerd with the pale complexion. The bando (raised hand), the artsy queer, the engineer, the etc.

And the burners. You know the kind. Two seconds behind the matter at hand. Their glow-in-the-dark Dead posters hung upside down. Facial tics like moss growing on the wrong side of the tree. Wake and bake. They’re like anti-KISS Army; unlike those manic fanatics who wake, wash and dress like Gene and Paul do everyday, the burners smirk and giggle since Gene don’t bow to the delights of their chosen high despite they snore “Detroit Rock City” in their sleep, sometime after lunch.

There is an argument I lean towards when those admonish the others for toking. Weed can be psychologically addictive. Y’know, like cigarettes, coffee, heroin and binge watching Game Of Thrones. Of which is the worst I cannot say, but when you firmly believe you need to maintain your habit on an hourly basis, then yeah, you have an addiction. My father watches BBC America every night on PBS. It’s an awful show, and he’s not British. What gives? Then again I a lot myself nightly bouts with Jeopardy! So who’s to say what?

We all have our addictions. It’s only when the habit supersedes getting on in the day that it may get troublesome. Especially that if such practices rub you raw, consider the others in your ever dwindling circle that find you increasingly annoying. So here comes the wake ‘n bake tale of grue. Not so much an after school special but an inevitable facepalm.

A room over from my freshman squat were the ideal Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Can’t remember their names, but it doesn’t matter. As I said, you know the type. Glazed eyes, snickering at nothing funny, reeking of patchouli, snickering at nothing funny. Study hall. Domino’s would call the floor asking when we’d like to place our order. Not kidding, there.

We’d have these dumb floor meetings. The RA would rally us every Friday to talk turkey. Mostly domestic 20th Century skills about keeping house. Cleaning up trash. No loud music after 10. Don’t use Canadian quarters in the Coke machine. Bring us together so that we may agree.

It was always eye rolls. But to Zig and Zag it was a circus. Giggling, impatience, odors of spoiled incense and Europe ’72 oozing from every pore. The funniest thing about a career pothead (besides his sidekick) is that they are convinced no one else figures that they are high. Pretty funny, and very annoying. Ain’t this as funny as ever? No, and nope. The joke’s on…whatever.

Like I said about these two jokers. They were in the room next to mine. Always with live recordings on their jambox, day and night and day. Going to actual classes ended…come to think of it, I don’t remember if the guys ever went to class, or if they ever registered. No matter. All I knew then was they bivouacked next door and really liked Santana. I know this for sure because said group invited my first and only convo with Tweedlewhomever. Like most white folks, they all look alike to me.

I had a substantial CD collection then. I was alternating between American Underground bands like the Replacements and Buffalo Tom against classic rockers like Hendrix and the Who. And Santana. This dope caught wind that I had the remastered disc of Carlos and Co’s debut album replete with live tracks from the original Woodstock concert. Trace element stuff back then. I was a feather in my cap, and I played those live tracks to death. Awesome.

I had the door to my room open one evening, that Santana album on repeat when Dee sauntered by. He poked his shaggy head in the doorway and used it to brace himself. I regarded him curiously.

“Hey man,” he drawled. “That Santana?”

I nodded. “Remaster. Got live tracks from Woodstock.”

“Cool, cool. Can I borrow it?”

I hesitated. Hey, at least give me that credit. “Yeah, sure.”

“Like now, man?”

Right now?”

“Yeah. Big study session. Carlos relaxes me. Is it cool?”

Without realizing what I was doing I turned off the stereo, ejected the disc and case and handed to him. At this point anything to make him leave. He smelled like a fart in a car, and was creeping me out. He was interrupting all the nothing I wasn’t working on.

“Thanks, man.” His tipped a salute with the case, leered and dragged himself down the hall. I closed the door.

Now I may know what you’re all thinking: and he never saw his blessed Santana CD ever again. Nope. It was in exile; even I had forgotten about it for some weeks. But one night I got to studying and felt peckish. I went next door with a keen awareness of what laid in wait: very odd, confused hospitality. I shoulda figured out the scene earlier. Once when the Domino’s delivery guy dropped off that evening’s feast it was my turn to pay. He sent me on my way with the pizzas and fistful of coupons. We were such good customers; he told me to spread the clippings around my floor. Sure, okay. Whatever. Save a few bucks next night.

So after the extra extra cheeses were demolished I passed around the coupons and took it on myself to drop the rest off at my dormmate’s rooms. Those who weren’t in I just slipped them under the door. Had to get rid of them somehow.

I met resistance at the door of my music critic’s room. I was surprised. I knew these guys were usually on something, but I couldn’t place what. I was too dumb then to fully understand what patchouli incense was really for, other than for attracting a bull yak in the time of the rut. I tried to shove the coupon under the door, but something was in the way. I poked around and figured it was some fabric. A towel. I gave up, looking quizzically at the piece of paper like one does when the Coke machine won’t accept that wrinkly dollar bill. I saw that the edge was discolored, wet. I raised and eyebrow, harrumphed and went back to my room. I tossed the coupon on the floor. One would figure two potheads would eagerly trudge at a chance for cheap pizza.

Many moons later and about the peckish order, I wanted my Santana album back. It had been weeks since I loaned it out and I was for wanting. I went around the corner and knocked on their door. No surprise a live Dead bootleg was warbling from within. And again with the yak bait. I knocked again.

A shuffle, then a stuffy, “Who’s that?”

“Me.”

“You?”

“Yeah. Can I have my Santana disc back?”

Silence. I knocked again.

“Who’s that?”

I rolled my eyes. Dave’s not here. “I want my Santana disc back. Please.” I’m nothing but polite.

The music went off and the door unlocked. I pushed against but it got stuck. I looked down. Lo and behold a wet towel, as well as a miasma of incense that could keep Dracula at bay. I saw the room was dim; the blinds were closed. Day-glo Henrdrix poster on the wall…as well as an elaborate hand painted mural of a Dead concert as if conjured up by Lewis Carroll. Pizza boxes piled by the closet. I guessed they found that coupon.

My fellow fanboy cursed the glare from the unforgiving halogens in the hallway. It was my turn to lean in the door. He looked at me perplexed.

“What’s up, man?”

“My Santana CD. May I have it back now?”

“That was yours?”

“…Yeah.”

“Hold on.” He kicked away the fallout and found the disc, handed it to me. “Sorry, man. I forgot about it.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I didn’t even get a chance to hear it. But thanks, dude.”

“You’re welcome.” I let him slink back into his lair. Jerry and the guys kicked back into life. I went back to my stereo and kicked Carlos back into life. To this day the liner notes of that remastered disc still smell like spoiled oregano. Good times, good times.

Not long after that meet-and-greet, the Tweedles left campus. And no surprise, not of their own choosing. Not actively, at least. They were expelled, but not so much for getting caught schmokin’ than for never going to class. And vandalism. I will admit I embellished describing the Santana CD story, but the pothead’s room? Amazing. Decked out like an opium den minus the opium. In brighter light the mural was amazing, the stink was glorious and maintenance would’ve had to tear up the floor tiles for sanitation’s sake. All in all awesome, but what a waste.

On the whole, most burners are a kind, mellow lot. Casual and conversational, with a lot of cool stories and great jokes. Chill. It’s only when pot becomes their life and wife that stoners can become obnoxious, where everything is funny, including wreck, ruin and expulsion. Not even making casual use of weed legal could undo that. It’s like if a user, pot or otherwise, is making life troublesome for at least one other person then it becomes an issue. If one’s—pardon the pun—dopey antics, no matter how benign start to rankle someone (even if they’re high as sh*t) it might be time to say when.

Take Dale and Saul, for instance…


“You’ve been served!”

Sounds kinda like a superhero battle cry. But nope, it’s just pothead process server Dale Denton (Rogen) doing his ugly job. Hence the weed. You think you could remain sane being called a*shole on an hourly basis and not partake to remain calm? Right. Pass the Dutchie on the left hand side.

Saul (Franco) is Dale’s left hand. He’s the hookup, with a veritable forest of rare weed to cure every ill. Sure, Saul is just as—if not more—dopey than his numero uno customer Dale, but he’s a kindly, generous soul. No harm to anyone. He wants to invest his cut of sales to get his Grammy Faye into a better retirement community. Aw. See, kind?

Dale’s job ain’t as kind. He’s Saul’s remora. It’s symbiotic. Dale needs the weed to tolerate the job. Saul provides the balm to salve his wounds. Easy.

However, on night on the prowl, doped out of his mind on the latest breed o’ weed Pineapple Express—very new and very trace—Dale starts to get the paperwork ready to deliver to one Ted Jones (Cole) when shots ring out. Jones plugs a guy in the head and Dale sees it all, freaks and speeds off, dropping the tell-tale joint on the driveway. Not cool.

Not ever cooler is when Jones investigates the screeching and finds a spent roach on the ground. Sniff, sniff.

“Pineapple Express.”

See, Jones is a big deal drug dealer in weed, and Saul is his pusher as Dale is the mark. And eyewitness to a murder. Ted’s killing.

Uh, Dale better call Saul…and both get the f*ck out of town.

Who said pot was harmless…?


I may have mentioned this before (and probably have indeed), but doesn’t Rogen play the same guy in all his movies? I know it’s nice to find steady work, but as an actor with a solid schtick rather than a range you’re gonna close a lotta doors. Then again, no one has ever lost money in Hollywood underestimating audiences’ intelligence. Well, maybe once or twice.

Rogen has a good thing going over the past decade. His motormouth humor isn’t for everyone, and even gets a bit degrading for me sometimes, but does sell tickets. At the end of the day I find Rogen funny and sometimes approaching witty in a blend of “aw shucks/are you insane” repartee. His stuff’s usually good with the right co-star. You gotta have one for a buddy movie, right? In Superbad it was Bill Hader, and it was Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 50/50. Such pairings that didn’t work was Adam Sandler in Funny People and especially not Katherine Heigl in Knocked UpDefinitley not her, even if she weren’t a she. Vote’s still out on that, too.

Face it, buddy comedies are almost exclusively the man cave of the sprawling studio lots. So gotta get a good foil to your straight man. A Costello to his Abbott, a Spock to his Kirk, a Stimpy to his Ren (okay, not the best example there). If Rogen’s Dale is an immature, churlish goof with a weed habit. The Murtaugh is his Riggs is slacker, skittish (but still mellow) with a weed habit and business Franco’s Saul. I was pretty surprised how well the two got on together, especially since I never figured his usual yuk-yuks border on ribald. His and Rogen’s oddball, passive-aggressive, bird-pecking-croc-teeth is the centerpiece of this movie.

It also might’ve been the only thing of merit, also.

While watching Express (for the second time, mind you. Caught in theatrical release and wasn’t bowled over. Guess I should’ve smoked up first, but that sh*t’s harder to sneak in than a cold six. This precept has been tried an tested. Yer welcome) there came a nagging at me. And no, it wasn’t the kid yanking on my earlobe for her iPad so she can watch The Loud House (j/k, she’s a SpongeBob fan. watch The Loud House. Grew up with sisters. ‘Nuff said).

(note to self: cut back on parenthetical references)

Express felt a little lopsided, like more was going on elsewhere in film land than what I was immediately seeing. As metaphor, my car has a “dead bulb” warning glowing on my dash, but for the life of me I cannot locate it. Headlights are fine, blinkers re fine. I even asked the kid to check out the rear lights as I applied the brake. Nothing. But something is up. I guess Express cam across a little stilted because that director Green is better known for dramas than screwy stoner action-comedies. A shot in the dark, but hey. Throughout the whole movie there was this Sisyphus-like weight threatening to derail the whole story. I couldn’t figure if this was some proto-meta, Kaufman-esque gag about how too much weed can ruin your perception of the reality of your surroundings. Or maybe it was just shoddy camera work, I dunno. Still, cool to ponder, eh?

Wake up. I got Oreos.

So right, we got a really Laurel and Hardy action going on here. Despite the minor, but still smelling overarching pretentious of our director I must give credit to this dopefest—literally and figuratively—is that is does have a cool mystery vibe going on. It’s paper thin (Dale witnesses a murder, Ted is a bad dude, Carol’s a crooked cop. Saul is just Saul, etc) but enough to let Express survive. It’s a burner Sherlock mystery. Again maybe a metaphor for the Down syndrome goldfish memory of most stoners, but there’s enough silliness to keep things afloat. Barely.

My biggest carp with Express is there’s quite a bit of filler. Scenes that have no point, crammed into the lacy plot. I didn’t really see the point of Dale’s dating Angie in the movie; he’s already very immature and petulant. It’s also safe to assume that a lot of the banter between Rogen and Franco was improv, but too much of it jumps the shark. When that crap goes down, the decent chemistry between Rogen and Franco become stale Martin and Lewis (in a word, annoying, and gimme back my Santana CD). If any wit seems stilted sometimes blame bad directing or an editor asleep at the reel.

Come on. That is the greatest pun you will ever hear in this installment.

Anyway, this action/mystery/comedy flows at a leisurely pace. Perhaps another analogy. This film made me think too hard, because I wasn’t high at the time. Clever device? If there’s some precious direction at work in Express I must’ve been too lucid to find it funny. The movie was funny, but there was too much passive winking that I snuck up on and examined to much.

Let me put it this way: as of this post, the hot ticket at the multiplex is Avengers: Endgame. I haven’t watched a Marvel movie in the theatre since the first Iron Man film back in 2008 BC. Being a comic book collector, I had seen other adaptions before the MCU got revved up, to see what was “right” and what was “wrong.” It’s the only form of snobbery I have: if a movie is based on pre-existing material (Shakespeare’s plays, Stephen King’s novels and/or Stan Lee’s superhero stories) I will scour it rather than just sit back and enjoy it. I can’t help it. Entertainment takes a back seat for studying up for the Bar exam. I overanalyze things (it’s kinda what RIORI and The Standard is all about). I found myself picking apart Express with the lucidity required to strip the Thanksgiving turkey carcass of its oysters because most folks don’t know that turkeys have oysters.

Remember, oreos.

So exactly why does the wit seem stilted? Why was my mantra watching Express was, “Something is missing here?” Must’ve been my imagined device at work. Watched the flick too deeply that Corrigan and Robinson were secretly the real stars of the movie (or at least the yin to Dale and Saul’s yang). Then again I may spotted Green’s established, aforementioned artistic pretentions at full flow here, behind the scenes. Everything is kind until it’s not (the final scene was the best part, clear as a bell). The gauzy direction must’ve put off a lot of folks by The Standard’s stake. But chances are they weren’t high, like me, and missed the chucklefest for that very loss. I dunno.

Welp, that being said I’m gonna go watch One Crazy Summer for the umpteenth time and then try to solve Fermat’s last theorem. Again.

Dude, marvelous.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? A mild rent it. A kind rent it. See it with a bud. Hey, where’s them oreos at?


Stray Observations…

  • “Dopest dope I ever smoked.” Dude, movie in a nutshell.
  • Where’d Saul get the pickles?
  • Why is every vehicle here a period car?
  • So. Many. Payphones.
  • “I used to use this little gun when I was a prostitute.” Shrug.
  • “Watch your head.”
  • Is all the bush supposed to look phallic?
  • “Yeeeah. If you could roll out those 18 bales of kush by 9:30 that would be greaaat (sorry, couldn’t resist).”
  • I never did test the high beams.
  • “Teamwork!” “Yes!”

Next Installment…

Adam Sandler has cooked up a few Bedtime Stories to share with his kid. What’s endearing about that is the tales were intended to be just stories.

Gumballs, anyone?


 

RIORI Vol 3, Installment 87: Kevin Smith’s “Zack And Miri Make A Porno” (2008)



The Players…

Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks, with Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Jeff Anderson, Traci Lords, Katie Morgan, Ricky Mabe, Brandon Routh and Justin Long.


The Story…

Zack and Miri are the best of buds, childhood friends, roomies. Inseparable.

And very, very broke. Their financial squeeze gets so bad that their apartment’s utilities shut off, one by one, in the dead of winter. Dire straits. How can they cough up the cash to make ends meet, let alone survive?

Grouchy Zack muses one night there are plenty of people out there who make a mint without working at all. Especially actors. Hey, maybe he and Miri can make a quick buck to set things right by making a cheapo movie.

Miri scoffs. A movie? Really? What kind of movie?

…You read the title, right?


The Rant…

I might have told this story before. If so, forgive me. After over 100 installments here at RIORI the memory gets blurry. Gets more difficult to separate the chaff from the chaff. Still, I think the following are good stories, and might, might be relevant to this week’s assignment. Here’s hoping with crossed fingers and fewer hurled beer bottles. Am wearing a hockey helmet now, BTW. Make up your own jokes.

Back in college in the ancient 90s I was a barista. Real deal and no visor to be found. Local cafe, owner owned and operated. Sumptuous temple for fair trade coffee well before Whole Foods raped your wallet dry. Back then working there had a coolness cachet, minus the embroidered apron. Scammed my way in due to being a good customer. One of the few favors my then girlfriend did for me was bringing me to the place on our first date. It fast became my hangout for both studies and chewing the fat, getting wired all the while. We may talk about the other favors she gave me later, you dogs.

She swallowed. Moving on.

I donned the non-apron my sophomore year. Most of classes ended around 4, so I had the evenings free, which is when the mercurial owners plunked me behind the line. Let me tell you, working under a pair of recovering junkies installed quite a serious work ethic in me, the FNG, not seen since a binge watch of “My Little Pony.”

I have no idea what that means. Neither did they. Seems fitting nonetheless.

The joint was a fishbowl; a demented microcosm of campus life inaction. A good thing. It was this aspect that attracted my then squeeze and her urging to hang out there. Like I mentioned, a true favor. And I am approaching a point here. Figured I’d politely warn you in advance this time out. You’re welcome; please stay awake.

I’ll spare any introduction to the demented “Cheers”-esque cast of regulars that frequented the place (at least in specific). The joint was called the Coffee Cave. Quaint. It squatted in the basement of the local liquor/lottery ticket/cigarette/sodomy vendor. Beneath this haven of sin was a low-slung cafe delightfully reeking of spent cigarettes, fresh baked scones, high end java and endless prattle about courses, bookended by the profs often holding court and in need of a fix. Japanese exchange students holed up with the Anglo architect study. The Arabian business uber-grad with the large, friendly who shamelessly brought his own lunch to the cafe (which irked the owners to no end). Drunken sorority babes every Friday eve requesting elaborate drinks while the winggirl snorted coke off the ceramic top of the “ladies'” room toilet. The homeless demanding said scones, and a wailing wall for budding and failed romances alike. Good times. Saw some things. Learned some things.

One of the things I saw was a movie at my girlfriend’s apartment. The Cave had no TV. At her behest; raving about it and demanding me to see it. It was so me. It was so Mark! It was a quest, for truth and fun. So she planted me in chair, duct taped my eyelids open and made me watch Clerks.

Thanks, babe. Lather rinse repeat.

I’m not gonna say that Kevin Smith’s Clerks was some sort of revelation. But Jess was right. It was so me. It was so Mark. I watched it many times between Coffee Cave jaunts, occasional classes and ever dwindling BJ sessions. Kidding. I watched Clerks over and over often.

But it was true. Learning to serve the hoi polloi was akin to scenes of frustration Dante and Randall had serving the trogs that hoved into the Quick Stop. Indie coffee shops were all the rage back in the Clinton years. Had the aforementioned cachet of cool, to which I lay the thanks or blame on Jen Aniston and her dippy, very white crew from Friends (mostly blame. Those stiff hairstyles, ugh). Every cloud has a silver whatever. That fact, and me being horribly droll about my new passing parade’s antics. What, me worry? What began as a comfy job swiftly became a life awakening in the Cave. No health bennies, to be sure. But the place did have one killer benefit (besides free espresso).

Enter Mark. Him Randall to my Dante. Love at first bitch.

I met him one night at the Cave. Might’ve been Sunday, the slow night. Mark was a grad student, tax law. Head in hand poring over some massive tome that smelled of manipulative English. Beige ballcap planted firmly on his head hanging over said textbook, a thick folder at his elbow vomiting paper. I roused him.

“You Mark?”

He snapped his neck awake and stared at me. I introduced myself.

“I’m riding shotgun with you tonight.”

“You’re the new guy…”

From simple greetings, bonds are borne.

I’ll spare some more details (save my “inspirational” schpiel about colleges parse out degrees of esteem while others withhold info based on tuition. He liked that). To wit, Mark was the Yin to my Yang. No surpirse he was a Clerks devotee also. We had a time recreating scenes from Clerks a la our own unique élan, quoting the movie’s lines ad nauseum:

“Cute cat. What’s its name?” “Annoying customer.”

“This job would be great if it weren’t for the f*cking customers…”

“Title does not dictate behavior.”

“I’m not even supposed to be here today!”

And so on. Our quoting got old to the crowd fast. Savages.

I was the cranky straight man, he was the loose cannon. Our scenes against each other were wondrous. Definitely a “you shoulda been there” scene. The shenanigans were jokes for ourselves alone. If a person outside played along, they’d give us a tip. If not they’d walk out in a huff, ordering nothing and leaving us two stooges laughing, same shared joy. Like I alluded, the owners were odd ducks. They suffered us goons well. They had to. Maintenance at the clinic and all.

Mark and I devised all sorts of gags. Alternating between jockeying the counter jibing customers and our homework assignments (read: goofing off), we would get all vaudeville on the pulsing flow of caffeinated humanity. Here’s a taste of Mark and our theatre. The counter where the register was was oddly tall. We had to lean into it to serve an order. I had to step onto the baseboard to make eye contact. This design oddity gave Mark and I an idea. Hence the levitation trick. Ready?

The owners had a pair of stools. They could sit in relative comfort serving their marks. When they were away, Mark and I used them as props. For the levitation trick. Always guaranteed a tip. Always. Here’s the setup. Recall the high counters. I would perch myself atop one of the stools, heels into the crosspieces between the legs. Mark stood a few feet away, warming up his “psychic powers,” which involved a lot of him adjusting his cap just right. To balance his chi, of course.

Copperfield stabbed his hands at me and with great strain induced me to wobbly “float” behind the high counter, trying to balance my gangly self on the crosspiece. The show culminated on me losing my balance and crashing on the floor. Sometimes it was deliberate. Always got a laugh, even from the customers. Nickels came pouring in.

Not all was fun and games. A certain nasty contingent always descended on our grotto every, every Friday and Saturday night: the aforementioned drunken sorority girls, schooled by the manners of Sex And The City. Multiple extras faded into the cityscape yet still on the set. Their 15 minutes. Here we went:

(flip of the hair) “I’d like a decaf half-caf mocha latte with cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg. Don’t forget the foam, and not too much. Skim milk, please. And don’t forget the mutton scraps.”

Sleepy-eyed me or Mark would slowly rotate towards the vacuum carafes filled with house blend, stagger for a house mug and plop it before the Carrie Bradshaw wannabe.

“Buck fifty. Try it.” I’d slink away and jack up the volume on the beater tape player that provided fractured ambiance to the Cave. My selection was early Replacements. Mark loved ska. The girls cowered at both.

“This wasn’t what I asked for (sniff).”

“It’s what you need. And I know what you need.” Grin.

Squeaking and fleeing. Stil got a tip, TP dragged by a heel.

And so on.

Mark and I became fast friends. Study buddies. Drinking buddies. Even dueling Dr Phils regarding romance. He hated my girlfriend. I envied his fiancee. We both agreed women were nuts, and would never appreciate the wisdom of Randall.

Why the heck am I telling you this? Two reasons. First, the right kind of movie can draw to people together, like iron filings to a magnet. C’mon, how many times have you gotten into a debate about a certain movie, its pros and cons with another cinephile? Very rarely does such fevered didactics result in fisticuffs, drunk or otherwise drunk. Boom. You make a fast friend (and a swift summation of their personality) going over the well trod territory that is The Godfather, Taxi Driver, MASH, 2001: A Space Odyssey and, yes, even Clerks. I’m not comparing Kevin Smith’s opus to slackerism to those cinematic pinnacles, but mention the flick and here comes the gasoline to your book of matches. Agree to disagree? Perhaps, but a feeling of kindred spirits almost always come calling.

Second, films such as Clerks sort of serve as a kind of acid test as to who you—and/or your friends—are. It’s like a kind of malign Kinsey report. I’m not talking sexual positions, but rather exposure of the idful aspects of one’s personalty, shoved away until the proper valve is released. Drunk or otherwise drunk.

*klonk*

Hey! A full one! Thanks, ladies!

Anyway, what I’m trying to get at is that certain films speak to certain audiences. And what they take away can be terribly influential on their worldview. Clerks did for Mark and I, as it did for hundreds of wage slaves in the vast wastes of America.

However, a filmmaker’s voice can often become a sounding board for its devotees. It can sometimes get toxic, making fans into cyphers. We all know someone like Dante Hicks. We very well may be Dante Hicks. But not every cultish Clerks fan can be Dante; they ain’t fans anymore, but lacking a personalty and super glued to their pet films. Examples may include Star Wars, Star Trek, Game Of Thrones, X-Files and Kevin Smith disciples.

Sometimes as a director, in the face of their own success must either shed an audience (the one that made them a household name and stupid rich) and branch out or succumb to their own Scylla and Charybdis, sally forth and churn out product with their naked signature. Many great directors have reinvented themselves many times over and have found success without compromising their vision. Spielberg (of course), Scorsese, Zemekis, Eastwood, Kubrick and Altman to name a few. Hell even John Waters and John Carpenter wandered away from doggie poo and Kurt Russell eventually.

In the shadow of Clerks accomplishments, Smith has been making the same movie ever since, with varying degrees of success. And beyond the social structure the Quick Stop invited, Smith became a victim of his own vision. Having Jay and Silent Bob guest in virtually every Red Bank movie didn’t help either.

No conversations needed between dweebs, Smith has a signature that he’s become a prisoner of. Comic books, Star Wars, f*cked up sexual innuendos, weed and the wonder and versatility of vaginas. This has become his oeuvre, much to the delight of teenage/college age mallrats everywhere.

So. With this week’s installment, does Smith rise above or keep on slumming? Or perhaps something more sinister and calculating?

Let’s just say it’s rough being a victim of your own success…


It sucks being broke. Despite hard you labor at your sh*ttastic, menial job, barely hovering over minimum wage, you walk away with hemorrhoids, pennies and a hefty unpaid bar tab. Gets even more difficult when you gotta mutually shoulder the bills with another broke-ass wage slave who happens to be your roomie. And your best bud.

This is Zack’s (Rogen) ugly mantra he carries around all day. It’s not too far removed from his best bud Miri’s (Banks) mindset. Childhood friends, been through thick and thin ever since grammar school. Now as adults, their flat on edge of being disconnected it’s now white agony in the wallet. No shiny lemonade stand on the corner is gonna fix their mess. They face facts, they’re losers, broke and behind the eight ball.

One fateful eve, Zack and Miri attend their high school reunion, if only revel in their peers’ crappy lives at the open bar. Mostly for the open bar. Miri secretly harbors her crush with the studly Bobby (Routh). Her ultimate goal is to score with him. Zack’s quarry is just the bar. While he quaffs his beer he strikes up a conversation with the creepy Brandon (Long). Turns out he’s a porn star and makes sh*tloads of money in his chosen profession. And is also Bobby’s boyfriend.

(fast forward a few miserable, embarassing hours)

Zack and Miri are crying in their beers at the local watering hole. Zack laments on their lack of funds some more, bitching how that f*ggot Brandon is a pervert. A rich pervert. Miri just whines over Bobby. Then Zack comes up with a daring plan to get them out of poverty.

We should make a porno!”

Miri scoffs, but they both want heat and water. According to Brandon making a porno on the cheap is easy, and can be very lucrative.

So what could possibly go wrong…?


We’re probably all familar by now with Smith’s irreverent style of filmmaking. It’s the tenet upon which I slam pimply fanboys. Yep, “irreverent” is the watchword of Smith’s style. It was the column upon which the empire was built. It also might be why Mallrats made any money. I’m still hoping it was for Stan Lee’s cameo.

But again, a filmmaker’s signature can only work for so long. Like I noted Speilberg et al effortlessly switched gears many a time with some good results. Unlike Smith’s naked muse, those guys had their vision on a string, which threaded through all their works in a subtle, background style. Smith’s end is Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots. Go along for the ride, you cretins! You want art? Come and get it! If you consider finger painting art. Up on the fridge it’ll go.

And like magnets to a fridge, Zack follows the same template that Clerks established. Don’t know ’bout you but I outgrew Clerks‘ schtick years ago. Hopefully a lot of those absent-minded fanboys jumped ship a while ago also. Played against Smith’s Zack he defiantly screams no. Smith is like Willy Wonka here. What you’re about to ingest is decidedly not good for you. Come along for the ride, you innocents.

Um, the innocents grew up. We saw Zack coming from a mile away. And we were high AF.

Besides being a retread of Smith’s well worn signature, Zack tries to shoehorn a Jerry Maguire-esque warm fuzzy feeling shrouded with being vile. Give the people what they want, despite the people outgrew Bluntman And Chronic back in the late 90s. Smith is deaf to this.

Zack is a cipher. Clerks lite, wrapped up in a cute romcom. Before I stroke the blade across my bilious strop, let me point out something about Smith’s signature I could never ignore in his films, including the good ones: duality between the leads. An existential Abbott and Costello bit.

Keeping in mind the classic “Who’s On First?” The whole key to the act is the frustation Bud and Lou have with miscommunication. A simple setup, but the bit’s hilarious (and probably spawned Three’s Company for ill or for ill). It’s all left hand/right hand, and the crowd is easily lured into the joke. And really it’s a simple setup, as is Zack. The major difference is that “Who’s On First?” requires your attention. With Zack all it requires is nodding. The way Smith drives his characters is nothing new since Clerks (all right, maybe Chasing Amy. I’ll give that one a pass). We know where we’re going, and Smith is straining to be clever; his irreverence schtick is wearing thin.

Zack we find is a crossbreed of Clerks. It plays like a slacker-meets-white trash rmeta ewrite of Chasing Amy, minus the lesbionics. It’s like ten years later. Kevin, get a new muse already. And Abbott and Costello don’t count; funny folks have been ripping them off for decades. Go ask Mitch Hedberg. Oh yeah, you can’t. He’s dead. As well as Smith’s schtick, hopelessly entrenched in the 90s. Like Mark and me. Not a good endorsement.

Neither is this: Zack is too patchy. There’s this slapdash feel to film, precious little segue between scenes and acts. Felt like a lot of first takes were used that required a second. Or third. Or never. Who edited this? The Red Bull, uh, bull? Guess Smith wanted to push the spontaneity of the movie (let’s face it: imminent poverty’ll make you think on your feet tout suite). And as for porno movies from what I’ve seen…I mean what my friends have told me that not a lot of planning goes into making them. The plot’s always the same: barely there. At least Zack has a leg up on most skin flicks. Most, and just one leg.

Now one could argue that Zack might be a swipe at Smith’s culty fanbase. I’m going to. It could be an Andy Kaufman-esque practical joke all us Clerks adherents, Star Wars freaks and comic book geeks. I mean, note the hockey stick as boom mike on Zack and Miri’s makeshift stage. They got the guy who played Superman 2.0 as Miri’s “one that got away.” Super overt Star Wars references. You get the idea. It’s all part of Smith’s signature, and may be a deliberately skewed delivery. For those who might get it. At any rate it’s all irreverent. Take a deep breath, Jedi maniacs. The first; episode six. Not the new—

Ferget it. My underwear’s showing.

Zack is stupid, but not dumb. If my above hypothesis holds any eternally fresh milk, Smith may very well  be trying to pants his key audience, and in the process, himself. Maybe he was trying to shed an audience al a Dylan’s Self Portrait. Maybe Smith just wanted to f*ck around. Maybe I’m over-thinking things. I tend to do that. Do I?

Save it, you in the back.

But wait, let’s take a few to explore this hypothesis further. This’ll be for all those conspiracy theorists/MSTies/slavish Smith adherents. Kinda like with the Self Portrait analogy. Was Smith trying to shed an audience, pull some Kaurman-esque prank and/or evacuate his directorial bowels of all the crap that’s been loaded on him since Clerks? Hell, since Mallrats (still can’t figure out why folks like that turd in the punchbowl). As I wandered through Zack, and after some chewing afterwards, I somewhat rethunk my MO in taking apart Zack. Somewhat.

Years back I caught an episode of NPR’s On The Media. The subject was the Star Wars franchise (The Force Awakens was hurtling towards multiplexes as he spoke). The guest advised listeners it would be better to watch the first six eps not in chronological order. Something about watching the overarching storyline out of synch did a better job of arranging subplots in a fashion that made the character development more assured. Face it A New Hope‘s cast of dozens—heroes and villains alike—don’t have a very chewy (pardon the pun) backstory. This gets some correcting in Empire, but still the guy’s argument sounded solid. Can’t remember the order he recommended, so whatever.

That being said, if there is such a thing as a Smithy-verse, then Zack is the tipping point where all the man’s films up until that point get all ironical. He takes the audience on a round the world trip up his rectum. Which is probably much more amusing to Smith than his duped apostles. That and maybe there’s some cinematic incest with Jay and Silent Bob in almost every one of his f*cking movies. Connection? Coincidene? I’ll wager not.

So then, keeping all the above dreck in mind let me now properly dissect Zack. No duh Smith has his sticky fingerprints all over the place. He directed, wrote and—key here—edited Zack. Okay, ipso facto we had no Silent Bob, but we did have Jay cum (ha!) Lester. And his schlong. The plot (such as is) is relatively simple and straightforward enough to pad is with lots of crude humor and examining the human condition. And another competent, if miscast crew of slacker oddballs. All securely stationed in Smith’s wheelhouse. Heck, even the flick appears that the director always the same camerawork. Who was the cinematographer? Silent Bob?

Oh yeah.

Anywho, other noteworthy contributions from Smith. There’s a brittle sweetness to Zack. We fast learn that our sad sack protags are up sh*t’s creek, wallets as flotsam. Relatable, and please tell Verizon’s billing department to quit calling me. Their lives didn’t pan out as planned, as if they had a plan. Gen X ennui. Their jobs suck and as we know are not keeping the lights on. Maguffin? Desperate times call for desperate measures! Improbable leap to cutting a porn flick! Get rick quick scheme!

Kinda predictable, which what makes it accessible to all you berserkers in Smithville out there, as well as the general public…who wanted to learn how a porn was made. Hell, Zack co-stars Traci Lords, so we have an authority on the subject, thank Heaven.

I’m guessing this semi-standard plot was borne out of Smith’s need to make his own Self Portrait with everything, everything in overdrive here. So we can put the mediocre plot aside and be tricked by “The Mighty Quinn.”

You get what you think you’re paying for.

This is the second ensemble film Smith has cut, and it’s damned good ensemble, if underused. Dogma had the better cast, since in essence that was a road trip movie, which allowed the players to be introduced like pepperoni on a pizza and allowing subplots to bubble up smoothly. Zack is a straight line, permitting precious little—dare I say—growth with our characters. Felt like Smith was in some sorry of hurry to splatter the screen with all his demented ideas in the name of, “Now f*ck off, fanboys!”

So since Zack in an ensemble film with a threadbare plot, most of our concerns are directed through the cast. Here is the part where either Smith was bored or brilliant (I’m leaning towards the latter now, BTW). I’m thinking both; let’s take a few big/medium faces, throw ’em in the gooey existential Cuisinart and let it rip.

First and foremost on my mind watching this was how sorely Robinson was wasted here. Guy’s damn funny, like pre-Family Feud Steve Harvey. If Def Comedy Jam was still on the air, he’d be a header. He only gets dribs and drabs of snicker-worthy quips. Again, maybe that was Smith’s intent, and from here on I’m gonna cite the director’s probable joke on us as His Intent. It’ll save room in the Cloud. Thank me later.

His Intent was fleshed out to a degree by casting Rogen. Look, I know a lot of actors make their mark and their money by playing a type and sticking with it for the better part of their careers. Mostly comic actors, mostly. It worked (and still sorta works) for Adam Sandler, especially since his stabs at drama have bit the big one. Same with Jim Carrey, who broke the mold by portraying Andy Kaufman in Man On The Moon (a weird comic playing a weird comic. Not much of a stretch). Even the late, great Richard Pryor’s best role was…Richard Pryor in JoJo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling. And that wasn’t him as Black Bart in Blazing Saddles. Get yer history straight, you philistines.

But does Rogen have any depth? I mean, I know he made an earnest attempt in 50/50 to not be a yob throughout the whole film. This might be the wrong movie to invite this question, but I gotta consider His Intent again. I always harbored the belief that Rogen improvs his lines. All his lines. If so, worked wonders in Superbad, his delicious awkwardness in Knocked Up and his non sequiturs in The Forty-Year-Old Virgin. But not so much with Funny People, The Green Hornet and here. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m a fan of the guy, and his schtick mostly works. Except here, where his motormouth gimmick comes across as just that: a gimmick. Rapid fire, impoved quips can only go so far for this guy, and Christ was he laying on thick. Who is Zack Brown, really? Do we care? Should we? Unsure on all fronts.

Let’s talk dialogue. It’s there. It’s loud and puerile, all that chatter about dingles and holes and mammaries that are perky. I read the title as did you. But this may be a first only only for me: there’s too much profanity. I grok Zack‘s reason for being surrounds the cast’s naughty bits and where they go. Salty talk goes with the territory; I ain’t deaf. But all of the blue language got numbing after a while, a blue blur of angst and innuendo. This was profanity overload, and it went from jarring to distracting to boring across three acts. Truth be told, I couldn’t pick up any line that wasn’t delivered with needless volume to forward the actors’ motivation, which was quite clear. Shakespeare this wasn’t. Shocker. Ah, well. F*ck off, fanboys, remember?

Banks is too pretty to be vulgar. With all its ribald humor, Zack pulled another miscast—maybe deliberately—by making Miri Zack’s foil. She does well with the lines she was given, albeit delivered in a anxious sense. Fish out of water. This isn’t the crone you’re looking for (admit it, that was clever). Truth be told I found Banks outfunnied Rogen, the vet. Sure, she’s done comedies before, mostly rom-coms but stuff made to amuse is made to amuse. Gotta give her props for the clown college try, despite the fact she looks like the terminal cheerleader captain. Still, she cussed with the best of ’em, God bless her.

In another film of this ilk (minus any maps of Hawaii on some silicone chick’s REDACTED), there might have been a little more romantic meat on the bones (heh). Even as Zack was over-the-top raunchy, some rules in the romantic comedy subgenre need to be obeyed to maintain cohesion. At its core, Zack is a rom-com. A dirty, demented rom-com directed by Kevin Smith, but a rom-com all the same. Again, if the following was part of His Intent, he did a good poor job of execution here. The latent sexual tension, for instance, coming to light is too abrupt (like everything else here. At least Zack is somewhat consistent). If there was a real message to this film then its a safe, universal one: sex changes everything, both figuratively and literally here in Smithworld. It’s not a bad note to wrap up on, but remember you gotta put that any everything else in Zack in the proper context. A little Vaseline over the lens focused at Red Bank helps.

So here are, near the end this week. After dismantling Zack what have we learned? Not much really. The whole caper was so cynically transparent, but did allow His Intent to run riot. If that was the objective. Mediocre sex comedy or brilliant practical joke? You decide. Still, likely both if you’d ask me. And I don’t care if you didn’t. I’ve got lasagne and you don’t. Neener neener.

In conclusion (for really real this time), Smith’s cachet is thumbing a nose and a middle finger to subtlety with Zack. Outright flushed down the sh*tter really. It was His Intent with Zack, calling out shots in the Foreign Man’s accent all the way (the Intent, not Latka). I’m almost sure of it. Betcha Zack frustrated a lot of Smith adherents out there, if not pissed them off. If so, good for the man. Sometimes you need a creative colonic now and again. Ask Dylan.

Snoochie boochies.

*klonk*


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it at your own peril. Big Smith fan? You’ve been warned. Casual Smith fan? Go watch Clerks. Again.


Stray Observations…

  • Primus? Really? Well this is a Kevin Smith movie.
  • “Can’t you see we talkin’, White?”
  • Thanks there, Alanis.
  • Was casting Brandon “Superman” Routh another flagrant “touch” as him being Mr Right that got away? Geek chic meta.
  • Even at 40 years old, Lords still look like a teen here. A teen that shoplifted the local Hot Topic, but adolescent nonetheless. Creepy that.
  • Wait for the third chorus.
  • “I love the movies.”

Next Installment…

Oskar is autistic, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close to recovering those lost eight minutes. All he has to do is find the right lock.


RIORI Vol 3, Installment 56: Steve Pink’s “Hot Tub Time Machine” (2010)


Hot Tub Time Machine


The Players…

John Cusack, Rob Corrdry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke, with Lizzy Caplan, Crispin Glover, Lyndsy Fonseca, Colette Wolfe, Sebastian Stan and Chevy Chase (!).


The Story…

Fueled by Red Bull, booze and nostalgia for their irresponsible salad days, Adam and his best friends accidentally travel back in time to 1986, where they get the chance to relive the best road trip never. At least how they like to remember it.

Oh, and their time machine? Well, it’s a hot tub. You did read the title, right?


The Rant…

Just so you’re all aware, I’ve been feeling kind of blue about my present after I exorcised a chunk of my past for the I Love You, Beth Cooper installment. The rant for that cold cup of coffee was based on failed grade school crushes of mine. Looking back all of, oh two months ago “was based” feels limp-wristed. Extracted is a more apt term. Yeah, I know. It’s hella lame for a 40-year old family man to get in a twist over non-events that happened when the first Bush was in office. But it got me a-thinking, and that’s seldom a good or smart thing. My mind began to play out the most unholy game of Risk tactics in my fevered, man-child imagination. Thanks to that crappy Chris Columbus piss-take of high school crushes he twiddled his thumbs over between vital Harry Potter chapters, dumb old me began to wonder, well, what if?

That, as we all know, can be a very dangerous game to play. Worse than numbly peg. Or Halo 3. What a drag that was. Worse than numbly peg.

*snores from the balcony*

Wake up. This may be relevant to us all. The fate of the free world you don’t wanna hear such drivel. But what if? My little game of nostalgics sent my mind a-reelin’. Beyond my recollections of anti-conquests of girls I might have f*cked if I had the sack—so to speak—things got all snowbally. What if I did ask what’s-her-tits out and we may have had a fine time that evolved into a nice relationship with hand holding and snappy conversations and fellatio and the whole wad (again, so to speak)? Of course it didn’t, but still what if?

Then I thought about other sh*t from my old school, literally. Things that I recall fondly, of course. Most of which came from college, most of some folks furreal salad days. When I was green in judgment. I had immersed myself in tons of philosophy classes. So many I accidentally earned a minor. Playing in the marching band and catching a lot of cool shows at the local clubs thanks to those “connections” (BTW it was rather rewarding to catch Frank Black and his then new band the Catholics since the Pixies crapped out a few years prior. I took what I could get). Fraternity days as me the VP and “barbecue chair” (when I was a practicing vegan. My frat bros figured I was pretty keen on cooking for that and I wouldn’t f*ck around with the steaks much. They did like my three bean veggie chili dosed heavily with Sriracha, so all was good).

I had my days as a barista at the local coffee shop. A for real barista, steeped in the black arts of coffee brewing and deviant incantations recited over the fresh batch of morning scones. It was an assumed a hip thing in the cappuccino-fueled world of Friends, indie bookstores and manically overtaxed in serious need of a caffeine fix to keep the midnight oil pumping cuz Red Bull hadn’t crossed the pond yet. It had a certain cachet then, but it was the 90s and sporting oversized Jnco jeans also had this coolness factor. Not sure why, even when I sported a pair. Pairs (some are mouldering in my attic, waiting for an uncertain time in the future to strike).

High school had its moments, too. Not all of it were wedgies and being spurned by the opposite sex (again, refer to the Beth Cooper installment). I had my group of misfits to whom I called friends and countrymen, and even though the term didn’t exist back then, we were geek chic and reveled in our weirdness. It was akin to circling the wagons in typical high school social hierarchy. There were Friday night movies at the local multiplex where our high school IDs would grant us a ticket for five f*cking dollars. That meant a ticket, small soda and candy for chump change. Granted this was in 90s dollars, but still.

There were Star Trek conventions to attend (stop snickering, and there is no Vulcan death grip). The best two memories I had at those hallowed halls of geekdom were meeting the late, great Leonard “Mr Spock” Nimoy. Guy was a pro at cons, and nothing like his TV alter-ego. He was affable, smiling and truly happy to be there. He had a PowerPoint presentation highlighting a “behind the scenes” for us fanboys, did the prereq Q&A and pitched his new book. Very cool.

The other Trek con moment I recall—one with an air of pride—was when Patrick “Capt Picard” Stewart paid a visit. He was a funny dude, cracking wise and baiting the audience. Again, nothing like his stern character. The inevitable Q&A session came around, and he was bombarded by Picard this and Picard that. I had my question ready for the man on the car ride there. When picked out my upraised hand I laid it on him:

“Mr Stewart, I thought you were great in I, Claudius. Coming from the Shakespearean school of acting I find it odd that most of your notable movie roles have been in science-fiction—thought you great at Gurney in Dune, by the way—but Shakespeare never did science-fiction. Fantasy, sure but nothing dealing with starships. So how does a serious Shakespearean actor devote his screen time to sci-fi when there is no sci-fi to draw from within the canon? Do you extrapolate what was learned under the Bard’s work into—say—the Trek universe, or do you let the series come down to meet it?”

Something like that. I’m paraphrasing.

Not surprisingly there were a lot of grumbles from the audience. What about Locutus?

Stewart looked at me, bemused. He said, “Young man, you do know where you are right now?”

I replied, “Yes sir. I’m at a Star Trek convention having a once in a lifetime opportunity to talk with a respected Shakespearean actor on how he uses his training in the field of science-fiction movies and television.”

Stewart slowly smiled. He snapped a finger at me and said, “A very good question, son! I’m glad you asked me that…”

About fifteen minutes later I had my answer. I won’t bore you with the details, but Sir Patrick alluded his style had something to do with Pop-Tarts. The strawberry frosted kind. Guess it was part of a rider.

And lastly (you’re welcome) my days in the high school marching band, rocking out on my sax and tooting with my fellow bandos at football games and the once-in-a-lifetime trip to Dublin for the official St Paddy’s Day parade. Dublin was and is an awesome city. It bleeds history. It’s not like, say, New York, where sure there is history of note, but more often than not one must scour the city to find it. The City is constantly being torn down and rebuilt. Not Dublin. Side by side new hi-rises rubbed shoulders with ancient castles and abbeys, edifices hundreds of years older than New York. Trinity College is nothing short of amazing. And the locals are tolerant, if not friendly to ugly adolescent Americans like myself. This courtesy seemed to extend to not just tourists but fellow countrymen as well.

I had the odd misfortune of witnessing an auto accident just off the Trinity campus. Nothing major; some bike courier on a scooter lost his balance and skidded under the fender of some dinky car at a red light. No one got hurt. The courier righted himself and his ride and went to check on the driver. What I could only assume by their shaking of hands that their insurance was in proper order. Imagine if that transaction happened in the states? Lately with law enforcement officials in dire need of a joint, how long do you think it would take before the seventh bullet struck the courier’s body? Needless to say, Dublin was a different world.

Not necessary apropos of nothing Dublin was the first place I ever had beer, or at least beer of note. Guinness was f*cking everywhere there. Like in the shower stalls everywhere. I loved my first taste immediately. My best friend, not so much. He fell onto the bed in our hotel room. More like the bed fell into him. This only engendered my nascent beer interest ever forward.

Also, when we finally got to the actual parade I had my first non-ironic turn as being a dopey, young American on vacation. To state that downtown Dublin on St Patrick’s Day is festive is akin to saying that a ghost pepper is “a tad spicy.” Bedlam. Thousands of Irish, ravening for delight. Hundreds of marching bands from all over the world, ready to rock out and stop frogs and simply ready to get it on. A big deal this, ten times over. No shillelagh.

If memory serves me (and this whole bit is about nostalgia remember, so it might by lying), there was a terrific cool moment I did that I was only made aware of as terrific and cool by my fellow bandos later. The ones further back in formation. Some kid on the sidewalk was really amped, like his nuts were clamped to a car battery or something—they did have Red Bull in Ireland back in the early 90s—jumping up and down and a hand outstretched. As I passed I gave him a high five. What the hell. It was a celebration. Later on after the parade was done and me squatting on the curb trying to catch my breath with the aid of one of those ubiquitous Guinness shot bottles a clutch of my fellow musicians asked what did I do to make that kid freak out so. Huh? All I did was give a high five and that was all. Turned out it was a very big deal to have an American band march in the parade, and me slapping palms was the equivalent of the Pope washing your feet. Damn. Didn’t know that. Now where was that other bottle?

Stuff like that.

But that’s the deal with nostalgia. You tend to forget the sh*t and revel in the awesome, no matter how myopic that view may be. A lot of the moments listed above feed into that “what if” train of thought. Now the aforementioned wasn’t intended to be some sort of narcissistic trip down memory lane, rubbing into your puss all the cool crap I did and you didn’t. Truth be told, most of you out there couldn’t give a rat’s ass about Dublin, bands and barista-ing. And that’s okay. We all have stories that make us smile, let us bask in the warm glow of memory and ask ourselves “what if?”

The sick part of playing the “what if?” memory game is that whole “what if?” line is bullsh*t. The past looks a helluva more tasty when your present consists of sucking the algae off the pool for sustenance. Your dream job? Actor. Your real job? Janitor. At the State Hospital. That means those stupid, blue paper booties over your work shoes are a daily reminder that you should’ve paid closer attention in junior year English class.

Truth be finally told, back in the day was a great less rosy than you remember it. You may glom on to the “what if?” train of thought now and again—paper booties notwithstanding—reflecting on your current state of affairs, but no matter how much drudgery you deal with day in, day out back then it wasn’t much better. Just little snippets inspired by that first big deal rock concert you saw, your first joint and scanning cover after cover of each and every Santana album looking for meaning as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls, the time you scored the winning touchdown in the final seconds of the fourth quarter for Polk High. This is the stuff dreams are made of.

All right. I’ve been slagging on the whole “what if?” game long enough here, so much so that you’re probably sick of reading those quotes. Now let’s spin it right round baby right round. Nostalgia is a good thing, so long as we don’t live there all the time. Pleasant memories are a cheap vacation, and often a good way to reflect on what is was against what it is and how much you learned since those halcyon days of yore. What a yutz I was back then! I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.

Right. Denial is a river in Africa. Back then it might’ve been low hanging fruit, but those are the ones which were the ripest. Face facts and my lying a paragraph back, stuff back then seemed so much more simple, vibrant and easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. Maybe they were. But face facts: that was then and this is your crappy now. Better just hitch up your belt (necessary after all those cases of PBR you demolished since…last Tuesday), suck up and deal and follow along with whatever dumb cliche your disgruntled blogger dare jam in here. Best just get on with it.

But wait. What if?…


Adam (Cusack) is a loser. He ex just bailed, dumped him via voicemail and took half the house with her. Up yours.

Jake (Duke) is a loser. He’s been camping out in Uncle Adam’s basement indefinitely, not wanting to be around his screwloose and very loose mom. His days consist of PS3 and Red Bull and denying any rays of sunshine aiding his banana-like pallor.

Nick (Robinson) is a loser. After a once promising career in the recording business, he now works the day away at a grooming salon teasing poodle hair and extricating keys for luxury autos from golden retrievers rectums. That and he believes his wife’s been cheating on him.

Lou (Corrdry) is not a loser. He’s just an assh*le. An alky, druggy, insecure, self-absorbed, dyed-in-wool assh*le. He accidentally decides to end it all by way of closed garage, car exhaust and Motley Crue. That’ll show his so-called buddies, and anyone else who called him a loser. Assh*le. Whatever.

Adam and Nick visit their assh*ole in the hospital. He needs some cheering up. In fact they all do. Looking down multiple barrels of middle age paired with life arrest, Adam gets the bright idea to take a road trip. Off to Kodiak Mountain they’ll go and try to relive the best vacation ever from their youth. Heck, for sh*ts and giggles Adam convinces his nephew to tag along. Jake is ambivalent about hanging out with his loser uncle and his loser friends hell bent on recapturing their glory days. Still, a road trips a road trip. Who packed the booze?

The Wolfpack—wait, that’s another movie—discover much to their dismay that Kodiak has fallen on hard times. What was supposed to be an awesome trip down memory lane has devolved into just memories and touristy rigor mortis. Bummer.

Despite the Lodge is little more than a crack house with a view, the quartet discovers a nice surprise when they check into their room. A deck overlooking the mountainside! Plus a hot tub, in good working order! With all their recreational…paraphernalia lugged along, the foursome decide to make the most of their dreary surroundings and literally drink in the night. Beer, liquor, energy drinks imported from Russia. The four dopes nothing to chance.

Except for a rift in the space-time continuum.

Turns out there’s a reason why this hot tub is so pristine. But the guys never take it into consideration. They should’ve, especially when Jake accidentally dumps some of his Soviet accelerate onto the tub’s controls. Of course the inevitable happens. Whoosh, zoom, barf. The four friends find themselves sucked back in time to the real epic weekend of their memories, where neon was the color, synth pop was the soundtrack, Top Gun was on everybody’s lips and Adam, Nick and Lou were far away from being failures. Jake…well he’s just Jake.

Now’s the time to take the (Red) bull by the horns. Their sh*t may have rolled downhill faster that thought possible, but the guys know what a second chance may bring (except maybe Jake). They know that 2010 sucks. 1986 was much cooler. Time to master some destiny. Reignite some vitality in their lousy adult lives. Maybe figure out in turn what the f*ck eventually goes wrong.

Like when that porter lost his arm…


This here is a movie that you just have to “go along with it.” Again, look at the freakin’ title, before God.

No shock, but Hot Tub is ridiculous. From the plot to the dialogue to the acting to the soundtrack to the freakin’ title, before God. A decent part of you knew outright what you were possibly in store for. Booze, babes and bad behavior from a misfits bunch of man-children. That and a little Back To The Future spin to boot. With drug abuse. And titties. And shades of Mel Brooks-esque bad taste. It’s all a good thing.

There’s a lot of nifty things to dig about this flick (and not just the titties. Or Chevy Chase). I found the underlying themes of Tub pretty cool, albeit blinded by the endless bacchanal, wisecracks, dirty jokes, cultural jabs and cameos from Cornelius toting a toolbox and offering Mr Miyagi-like trapezoidal Zen koan nuggets of non-wisdom. Believe it or not, there are actual messages belying Tub‘s virtual non-stop sinful shuck-and-jive.

Okay, maybe one real message. We’re barring the whole don’t f*ck with fate and/or the Zemekis paradox problem. Butterfly effect. Don’t go a-huntin’ fer a T Rex sh*te. It’s a simpler concept, one I was dancing around in my rant. Ready?

“If I knew then what I knew now.”

Heard it before, right? Tub is the first time travel film I ever caught that takes this old saw to heart. To be sure there have been a-plenty of time travel films made before that troll this old line. Most don’t really dip into the deep well of that dire, common and vital query that has crossed all our minds before. And if you’re denying that and life is fine, then how come you still tote around those dusty yearbooks signed by everyone, including the school nurse? Right. And so do I.

Like I was getting at, time trek movies like Back To The Future, Peggy Sue Got Married, Highlander (yes, Highlander), Millennium, technically Memento and…um, Star Trek IV to name a few all deal with matters of the past against a potential future. Tub is no different, but its “don’t f*ck with future” deal is a major—if not the major—undercurrent of what could’ve been yet another derivative buddy comedy with substance abuse and…titties. Nothing wrong that. It’s invited here. But a moral imperative in a Hangover knock-off? Why yes, yes it can be.

It makes the whole schmeer hang together. At the outset we got yer typical buddy/guy flick, replete with bad behavior, wacky Some Like It Hot atmosphere (minus the cross-dressing) and forever pining for that lost p*ssy. The clever device in Tub is that how if any of our motley crew (pun intended) knowing then what they know now will actively play on that. We know at the outset that Adam and the rest are painfully aware of what sh*tstains their lives have become. Now zipping back in time they carry (rather heavily at first) what such future knowledge may do if acted upon and the adult—weak though it may be—responsibility of holding it in check. Funny, and how’s that for a morality play in a flick that tosses morals into the gutter.

Ahem, sorry. Back to the dick jokes.

A big up from me concerning Tub‘s foundation: we got quite the ensemble cast here. Many lowbrow comedies often feature a panoply of dopes, dweebs and/or dumbasses. Think Animal House, Revenge Of The Nerds and Old School. Yeah, those movies had very much an eclectic cast, but none so divided—if not antagonistic—than these four morons on their children’s crusade of chasing memories.

Adam and co. are fully fleshed out, despite all of these yutzes’ stereotypical antics. A lot has to do with the acting, and we do have a stellar cast at hand here. They’re almost too good for this little asswipe trifle. Cusack with his signature hangdog is in full force here, bewildered and pissy, unwilling to accept the hand fate (or he) has dealt him. I remember catching Robinson in his salt mine years on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend. He stomped on his electric piano and baited the audience, all smooth and self-effacing. Corrdry got his break on The Daily Show, as probably the most acerbic “field reporter” the show ever let such an angry pate show. And Duke was in Kick-Ass. Whatever gets u thru the night.

The odd chemistry these four ne’er-do-wells bring to he scene is what holds this whole brazen mess together. Despite all the bluster with Tub‘s execution all this sh*t would come off the rails if our losers weren’t so endearing. That’s right. These asshats are charming, relatable and worthy of your sympathy. For the most part. They’re dopes, but there our dopes, if only for 90-plus minutes. Chances are that’s all one could stand.

Truth be told, and in the face of what I’ve saying, our dopey heroes aren’t really nice guys. Yeah, yeah. Life’s dealt them a raw deal, but they invited it. At least since 1986. And they have ostensibly living under the shadow of their callow, shitty choices from back when where they reached a crisis point. And all three tanked (save Jake, who was no more an itch in his daddy’s crotch back then).

I know I’ve been kicking Tub around like a rusty can for the past universe now, but ignoring my metaphysical whatsit from the past few paragraphs, Tub is as about as screwball one can get these days when filmmakers have all but forgotten what a screwball comedy is. Tub is manic, yet still smooth. Witty despite being crass. Sophomoric and that’s the point (I think).

And all those highlights can be wrapped up in a nice neat package that is surefire to grab an audience (at least one who remembers Tub‘s “back in the day”): nostalgia.

I wrote about 90s nostalgia back in the To-Do List installment. It naturally appealed to me being a teen growing up the years of grunge, infant internet and Jurassic Park being the film on everyone’s lips. Fun for me and other survivors of Gen X, but only us. Kind of a limited market there. Not much different with Tub, either. I was a kid during the Reagan years with the Cold War, Miami Vice and the NES as comfort. To which I claim: whatever. It’s true that Tub is an 80s Gen X nostalgia fest, and you may have to have lived back in that stone age of Sonic The Hedgehog, pagers and/or new Coke to be hip to Tub‘s backdrop but you don’t necessarily have to pay rent there. Or a lift ticket.

With all the amped up 1908s pop culture baiting, some actual, specific nods to where and when our troupe of dopes shines through. You don’t have to play the “you had to be there” spin to find Tub funny (it helps), and moreover all the goofy, garish, hair metal histrionics serve more as wallpaper—ambiance—to enhance your viewing pleasure, not to mention a candyland for our heroes to slop around in. So if you were alive back then only you our chosen friendly demographic would catch the many clever subtleties director Pink smattered around Kodiak here and there. May I cite a few? I can hear a bunch of you drunken, Jolt Cola loving, Scritti Politti fans say yes. And then burp a lot.

Since Tub’s a flick about time travel is Crispin “George McFly” Glover’s presence meta? In that vein, and since we’re back in the 80s is Cusack’s mere presence meta? All the guy had to do here to complete the allusion was to have him hold a boombox over his head until Gabriel released his next album in 1992. I’ll go you one further. We have Cusack skiing, getting sh*t from a douchebag named Lane. Ever see Better Off Dead (no? Do)? If only for a claymation cheeseburger singing Van Halen. For shame befall the Academy for ignoring this gem of filmmaking.

*blogger feels he is losing his audience so he busts out the concertina and rocks Lady Of Spain*

You back? Good. Speaking of music let’s not ignore the soundtrack. No duh here. You can’t have a “period piece” like Tub without stacks of wax dropping from time to time. Yet again the jokes help if you’re steeped in 80s pop culture. I’m judgmental and am willing to wager some cash that you missed the boat. The songs are strategically  placed, not just wallpaper. Truth be told you don’t have to know the songs when they’re dropped. Just either hear the lyrics or note the timbre of the scene and you’ll get it. It’s like that scene in Super 8 when the object of the hero’s affection reluctantly drives off with him in the shotgun seat and the Cars “Bye, Bye Love” is playing on the car’s radio. Stuff like that. Now focus.

And to this again: the acting. Tub‘s a buddy movie at heart, so there better be some chemistry and ensuing camaraderie present. There is, but it sure is prickly. Truth be told, it’s kinda hard to really root for Adam and his fellow dolts. They’re all losers after all, with a serious d*ckhead in tow. All of them are sniveling, erstwhile men trying to relive their glory days. Thanks to the f*cked up hot tub’s wires getting crossed against the space-time continuum, they get their reluctant wish to literally relive the past. And they do it begrudgingly. Turns out that back then wasn’t much different than right now. And boy, does Pink have a field day milking our leads for all their worth.

Okay, I’ll lie to you. Cusack spends his time being Cusack, with all his wonderful, insecure awkwardness. It’s his thing. Geek chic. His schtick dates back all the way to Sixteen Candles (“Real smooth, Cliff”). Cusack’s nervous temperment serves his Adam very well. Considering the guy comes home to a house cut in half, you might be a tad nervous and insecure, too. I might be, if I had any truly worthwhile crap an ex would want. She’ll leave the Marvel comics be, of course; too much geek on them.

Robinson is an endearing, charming, hapless wimp. He’s the guy who you’d root for the most with his spin around the widening gyre. Of course he keeps blowing his opportunities to do so, and comes across as a cautious Casper Milquetoast, not sure how to put the genie back into his own personal bottle. It’s only until the third act Robinson shines, and believe it or not it’s heartwarming (also in stark contrast to his life in 2010. Very stark, but in a good way. His showcase is almost Shakespearean. Really. Forget what I might’ve said earlier. We need the sympathizer with the piano skills to keep this train on the rails. How else we gonna get that ever so essential 80s movie musical number?

Not much to say about Duke really. Sorry. He’s kinda pesky with all the whining and nagging. But I did like his role as idiot savant being the only one of the lot concerned with getting back to future and trying to communicate with the hilarious repairman Chevy Chase. Yo guys, reality check. We ain’t in Topeka no more. That and he has no reason to stay there in day-glo land.

And now, the queen to bishop’s pawn, Rob Corrdry. He steals the show and is relentless. Exhausting even. Rapid fire quips of definite insensitivity (and insecurity) and inciter of all riots, he takes the cakes and fails to leave any crumbs. Sweet Jeebus, if there were a more prefect specimen of narcissistic, self-destructive (he did try to off himself, the Maguffin he is), petulant behavior, I know not. But he was f*cking funny. The funniest of our cadre. Also the most damaged and vulnerable. C’mon, who isn’t that which we know when we try to play a TV drinking game, and whichever character pops up on screen—say for Gilligan’s Island—they always declare, “I call the lagoon!” There’s Lou for ya. Now start pumping the charcoal.

Hmm. Don’t know how much sense this installment made. Not much at all is what my dwindling senses are poking me. All I can walk away with is that I did like the movie. That’s what counts. The nostalgia baiting. The drunken hi-jinks. Even the whole lesson about “If I knew then…” In the endgame, that all doesn’t really matter. Just like the 80s pop culture references lost on modern audiences (then again, most is lost on modern audiences, necks slumped over their iPhones. Get laid already), it’s no big. Tub‘s whole wad was satisfyingly funny and—surprise for real, surprise—actually conveyed a meaningful message. Is Tub‘s dumb a sneaky smart motif? Nah. This movie ultimately makes no apologies for its conduct, and I like that. Let’s leave Lars Von Trier alone for another night.

Right now, I think I need to bust out the ol’ Walkman with mixtape of Rick Springfield’s greatest hits. Then toss the thing in the microwave. Grow up already.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. A solid time-waster, with a solid cast of funny people and more winking this side of direct pupil dilation. We need more dopey comedies like this. Ride the pipeline and avoid New Coke. PSA.


Stray Observations…

  • “The taxidermist is stuffing my mom.”
  • I love Caplan’s Patti Smith stuck in the 80s look. That and the proper attitude to boot.
  • “We should go check on that deer.”
  • Lou is a walking Red Bull enema. I have no idea what that even means, but it sure fits.
  • “It’s your d*ck. I won’t tell you what to do.” That’s what she said.
  • I love/hate the soundtrack. Age is creeping in.
  • “Is it a fetus?”
  • Why was flipping collars up back then cool? Discuss.
  • “I don’t like you takin’ liberties with my d*ck.” That’s what she warned me about.
  • What? No Van Halen?
  • “Carroll’s on the left.”
  • The perpetually alternating sight-gags regarding Phil’s arm got actually pretty tense.
  • “Talk about your lost weekend…”

Next Installment…

Think you can go toe to toe with The Wolverine? No, I mean for real. Not the whole adamantium claws bit. Tap dancing. Hear the guy’s quite the hoofer.