I’ve always kind of known Cabin Boy existed, but I’ve skirted around it for years because.. well, as funny as that Chris Elliott guy is in other stuff (he’s the best part about Scary Movie 2) I just didn’t think he could carry an entire comedy on his own, and the thing just looked stupid based on the DVD cover. Well the good news is that he doesn’t have to carry the whole thing on his own because this thing is so packed with character actors, super random cameos, bizarre practical effects, trippy vignettes and eccentric humour it carries itself on sheer outlandish momentum alone. I also wasn’t prepared for how fucking weirdly surreal and unearthly much of it is, it in fact might be one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen and in that regard it succeeds on sheer cult status merit alone. Elliott is pretty idiotic as a self proclaimed “fancylad” (they pronounce it as one word), a rich, spoiled little asshole who leaves his cushy life to run his father’s business in Hawaii but accidentally boards a salty fishing vessel after being given wrong given directions by David Letterman (I’m not making that up). The crew of this boat is populated by the grizzled likes of James Gammon, Brion James, Brian Doyle Murray, Ritch Brinkley (the obnoxious county prosecutor from Twin Peaks, for anyone as nerdy as me who remembers) and a young Andy Richter. They don’t take kindly to Elliott’s snooty attitude though and basically make him the Boat’s Bitch until he can earn his stripes. The film is terminally dumb in many areas but sometimes the script really surprised me with hilariously subtle comedic dialogue and deftly hysterical performances from the main cast and cameos alike. The central plot at some point gives way to a jaw dropping, delirious bout of random interludes including an iceberg monster, a Norwegian half man/half shark creature called Chocki (Russ Tamblyn, of all people), a pissed off Olympic swimmer (Melora Walters), a floating cupcake (Jim Cummings), a cave dwelling Kama Sutra goddess (Ann Magnuson) and in the film’s funniest bit, her Brooklyn born giant of a husband (Mike Starr, always love this guy) who tries to open a hardware store for seagulls. It’s about as fucking off the wall as it gets and suffice to say I was not prepared for the brand of deranged lunacy this film has to offer but I quite enjoyed a good portion of it. In a world where the comedy genre is so saturated with uninspired, limp-dick efforts and terminal misfires, I appreciate something with the verve, lack of inhibitions and capacity for abstract thought that lets it all hang out and throws every certifiably insane idea at the wall to see what sticks. Most of it does.
There’s a turn of phrase that I like to avoid in where a writer compares any eclectic crime film they can find to the work of Quentin Tarantino by labelling it a ‘Tarantino knockoff’, or any variation in vocabulary. I renounce this lazy, unimaginative jab as it’s based in the worst form of criticism, that of negative comparison and ignorance of a film’s original qualities. However, in the case of American Strays, even I have to concede that it’s a blatant, unapologetic ripoff of QT’s style that makes no efforts to mask the plagiarism or do it’s own thing. He should sue. Not to mention the fact that on it’s own terms it’s just a horrible, boring, awkward fuckin piece of shit movie. It’s set up in the same anthology sequence except none of them are even connected, let alone make sense. Two nimrod hit men (James Russo and Joe Viterelli) drive through the desert engaging in strained extended dialogue that’s neither funny nor stimulating. A psychotic vacuum salesman (the great John Savage) goes door to door harassing people until he meets his match in a femme fatale housewife (Jennifer Tilly). A stressed out family man (Eric Roberts, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else) drives his dysfunctional brood through the desert. Elsewhere, Luke Perry plays a depressed, suicidal weirdo who sits around in a shack with a guy he’s paid to literally beat the shit out of him. The worst is a cutesy pie, insufferable Bonnie and Clyde style couple that are so obviously emulating Clarence and Alabama from Tarantino’s True Romance that you begin to wonder if they gave up and just set the script on autopilot like one of those knowingly ridiculous knockoffs you see on Netflix that are simply there to decoy you out into clicking a title that looks *almost* like what you want to watch (TransMorphers, anyone?). None of these vignettes are remotely engaging, it’s like a parade of shitty, awkward, misguided SNL skits from a dimension where humour and wit don’t exist. Every actor just looks tired, every line lands with a hollow thud. Just. Don’t. Bother.
The River Murders is a fairly entertaining thriller vehicle for Ray Liotta that tries hard to be in the same grisly territory as stuff like Sev7n, and winds up looking pretty silly in its efforts. It takes place on a rural community in the Midwest, where a serial killer is leaving bodies for authorities to find. Detective Jack Verdon (Liotta) does some digging and finds that that himself and the killer may have met before in the past, making it personal. This causes unrest for both the department and Verdon’s mental state, prompting the arrival of an overzealous Federal agent (Christian Slater, annoying as hell here), and the concern of his captain (Ving Rhames). It’s fun watching Liotta spin out of control, and the film climaxes with reasonable intensity, but showcases nothing unique or noteworthy. Raymond J. Barry has a nice bit as Liotta’s father too.