New Dare Daniel

DARE DANIEL (Academy Awards edition) – “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”

indexExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011; Dir.: Stephen Daldry)

GRADE: D-

By Daniel Barnes

In the decade following the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Hollywood made a few films that attempted to recreate the events and aftermath of that day, most notably United 93 and World Trade Center. However, neither of those films emerged as serious awards season contenders, both too catastrophic and bleak despite their central stories of heroism, too grounded in the horrible reality of the day. Instead, the first 9/11-themed film to get nominated for Best Picture was the utterly shameless Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and it’s revealing that the film identifies with a child who is literally unable to process the events. When the boy hides under his bed, the film hides under there with him, and you get the feeling that director Stephen Daldry would prefer to keep the covers over our eyes. It’s a 9/11 version of Life is Beautiful, or a Forrest Gump on antidepressants if you prefer. I would prefer to vomit.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is actually the final film in Daldry’s unofficial “comatose awards bait” trilogy, following the similarly embalmed The Hours and The Reader. Daldry might as well have been genetically engineered to craft the sort of stodgy prestige pictures that Oscar voters devour, and clearly his programming told him to exponentially increase the quirk factor here, while simultaneously omitting or obscuring anything that might upset us. He wallows in suffering and tragedy without context, and then offers reconciliation and acceptance without comprehension. In Oscar parlance, that’s what’s called a “shoo-in.”

images2The film is a nonstop barrage of cutesy MacGuffins (I counted at least half a dozen, including a magic key, a hidden “sixth borough” of New York, and a mysterious mute stranger with “Yes” and “No” tattooed on his palms) and meme-ready inspirational quotations, just hackneyed metaphors piled on top of hackneyed metaphors, and it portrays emotional invasiveness and manipulative behavior as noble pursuits (if you’re white). Daldry and screenwriter Eric Roth push the idea that caring for troubled children is not just anyone’s responsibility, it’s YOUR responsibility. After all, it takes a village…of slaves.

Twinkly-eyed Tom Hanks and tear-streaked Sandra Bullock headline the picture, but they’re just bait-and-switch, poster-candy sidemen to star Thomas Horn, who plays nine year-old Oskar Schell. As the film opens, Oskar has just lost his father (Hanks), who was in one of the Twin Towers when they fell, while his mom (Bullock) has seemingly become catatonic with grief. When he was alive, Oskar’s father was a sort of Manic Pixie Superdad, cranking out elaborate treasure hunts faster than Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown. Of course, the film takes place in a magical “movie New York” bathed in a perpetual autumnal glow, the kind of fable metropolis where parents trust the homeless men in Central Park to babysit their nine year-old children at any hour.  Yet it’s a storybook New York where 9/11 still happened, which is far more depressing than any of the film’s gutless attempts to wring tears from our eyes.

Oskar has a tastefully unnamed developmental disorder (clinical diagnoses might upset us, remember), and the treasure hunts were his father’s attempts to pry him out of his social shell. When Oskar finds a key hidden in a vase his father purchased just before his death, he assumes it’s the start to his final mission. The key was placed in an envelope with the name Black written on it, so Oskar sets out to visit every single person in New York City named Black, dumping his emotional baggage on their doorstep and demanding entry into their lives. Yes, this is literally a film where all Blacks (and to be sure, people of color are especially entranced and healed by this kid) are tasked with improving the mood of an affluent white family…insert your own Uncle Remus jokes here.

imagesWhile his mother blithely broods at home, Oskar spends months running across New York, meeting with strangers and looking for any clue to the origin of the key. The mute “Renter”, who may have a stronger connection to Oskar’s father than he initially lets on, also joins in the treasure hunt, before leaving and then coming back (and then leaving again and then coming back again). Eventually, the key turns out to be a false lead, not an answer but a coincidence, and Oskar becomes violently distraught. Bullock calms him down and reveals that it was her who orchestrated the entire adventure. In flashbacks, we see Bullock approach every single person named Black in advance of her son, setting up every encounter, and then pretending to be catatonic while he traipses unsupervised across New York City. She assures him, “I always knew where you were…always.”  Paradoxically, this explanation is supposed to make her behavior seem less insane.

Oskar seems inexplicably mollified either way, and so he writes a here’s-what-I-learned letter to the Blacks, and we see that their cardboard problems have all been cured by the ennobling touch of this little white kid. Naturally, there will be those who say, “Hey Barnesyard, of course you were gonna hate a feel-good 9/11 movie starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock.  You had this film on a tee from the very first frame.  You’re one of those cynical leftist media types who hates everything pure and good about this beautiful country.  You probably want to put Obama’s face on the Euro and institute sharia law in Oklahoma.”

OK, fair point.  But I still say that if the terrorists won, they couldn’t find a better victory dance than Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

 

Dare Daniel – “Simon Sez”

simon-sez-sauvetage-expl-ii05-gSimon Sez (1999; Dir.: Kevin Elders)

GRADE: F

By Daniel Barnes

If you have ever attended an NBA game, then you have probably seen some of the pre-taped bits starring the home team’s players that are shown throughout the game on the arena Jumbotron. Players exhort the crowd to cheer during timeouts, urge people to contact an usher if they need assistance, and sing Christmas carols during the holidays. Although these bits are updated to fit the moment and the season, they are all filmed in one day prior to the start of the preseason. The players are given clear direction and work off of simplified scripts, making it easy to knock out the segments in quick, almost robotic succession.

This is the reason star athletes in all sports tend to give unaffected performances and deliver monotonous line readings when they appear in films and on television, even when they are ostensibly playing themselves. Pro athletes have so many personal, professional, commercial, and charitable obligations that acting in a major motion picture becomes just another thing to check off the daily list. They are trained to go through the motions and plow through the scene, not to slowly discover their characters through improvisation and self-analysis.

I only bring this up because in the nearly ten-minute opening sequence of Kevin Elders’ cinematic toilet Simon Sez, the film’s star Dennis Rodman loops in his dialogue while his stand-in wears a yellow motorcycle helmet and matching bodysuit, and I briefly feared that Rodman neglected to show up for his own movie. At the end of the sequence, the point of which seems lost even to the screenwriters, the camera tracks in towards the mysterious motorcyclist as he takes off his helmet to reveal…gaaaasssp! Dennis Rodman! Who the fuck else?  We’ve been listening to him for literally the entire film.  Unless there was another tattoo-covered, body-pierced, frog-voiced, bleach-blonde, 6’7” African-American doing motorcycle stunts throughout the French Riviera that day?

indexFor some reason emboldened by the lack of box office success of his 1997 Jean-Claude Van Damme buddy picture Double Team, Rodman jumped into the lead role of Simon Sez, a superspy action comedy too brain-dead to even qualify as a James Bond knockoff. Here is a sample of some typical dialogue:

Girl: Do you know what day it is?

Boy: What?

Girl: It’s six days until I leave you.

Do you see how that ticking-clock plot business was seamlessly interwoven into the dialogue? That’s the kind of magic that can only be provided by four credited screenwriters, all of them presumably fronts for the Russian Mafia. The director of Simon Sez is Kevin Elders, who is best known for writing the screenplay to the original Iron Eagle, but who apparently got his start in Hollywood as an accountant (IMDB lists him as “assistant auditor” on Bob Fosse’s great Star 80, one of the best films of the 1980s – solid auditing, bro!). Elders also wrote a film called The Echelon Conspiracy, which I would have sworn I had never seen if not for this 2009 SN&R review. Reading my review of The Echelon Conspiracy, I’m most struck by my naïve liberal belief that Obama’s Presidency would render a film about domestic surveillance “outdated.” So who’s the hack now? (Answer: Kevin Elders.)

How late-1990s is Simon Sez? The MacGuffin is a compact disc. There is a plot involving an effete arms dealer and a kidnapped heiress, but any chance of the story taking hold is obliterated by the frantic, annoying, lowbrow shtick of Cook and Rodman’s flatulent gadgetmen. Simon Sez is a PG-13 action film with many murders and a sex-fight sequence, yet the comedy is pitched squarely at the prepubescent, couch-wetting set. Below is Cook’s idea of a goofy “take.” Rodman prefers to roll his eyes. Every actor in Simon Sez is directed to overplay their comedic hands. There are more double-takes here than in Hi Diddle Diddle (that joke makes sense and is funny, trust me).

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However, the action scenes in Simon Sez are barely less numbing than the comedy scenes.  That’s saying a lot when you consider that the film features both a quicksand sequence and an obese character that repeatedly refers to himself as “Free Willy.” Concepts of screen direction and matching shots seem to utterly baffle the incompetent Elders, and it doesn’t help that he is forced to make such liberal use of body doubles.

Rodman is thoroughly disengaged from Simon Sez, and his stand-in gets so much screen time that he should have sued for an above-the-title credit. A young and hungry Dane Cook co-stars as a bumbling doofus who enlists the help of Rodman’s Simon in rescuing his boss’s kidnapped daughter. It is abundantly clear that Elders encouraged Cook make up for Rodman’s lack of energy by going tremendously over-the-top in every scene. Words can’t even do justice to the resulting horror, but this YouTube video of Simon Sez “highlights” at least gives you an idea.

Skip to 1:01 to hear Dane Cook do a Chewbacca voice

Skip to 1:30 to watch Dane Cook act like a T-Rex (this sequence is three times as long in the actual film)

Skip to 1:54 to watch Dane Cook feign orgasm and say something disgusting about Drew Barrymore.

Skip to 2:12 to hear Dane Cook bark like a dog.

Skip to 2:33 to see Dane Cook curled in a fetal position.

Skip to 3:32 to hear Dane Cook make a Grey Poupon joke.

Skip to 3:43 to hear Dane Cook whine loudly.

Skip to 4:14 for the sex-fight scene (no Dane Cook here, but it’s really gross anyway)

Skip to 7:00 to watch Dane Cook pick his nose and waggle his tongue.

Skip to 8:10 to watch Dane Cook give the scene a little extra emphasis.

And that video doesn’t even include the scene where Cook shoots and kills a man point blank, and then giddily rolls around on the floor like a toddler. The Dane Cook that we see in Simon Sez was still five years away from becoming a household name (and ten years away from becoming a relic), so his horrendous mugging here can be largely blamed on a bad director enabling a desperate actor hungry for screen time.  Cook is still on the hook for the rest of his wretched career, however, which in recent years has been plagued by reports of bizarre behavior and allegations of plagiarism. If Dane Cook is ever accused of lifting material from the God-awful Simon Sez, we will know that he has finally hit rock bottom.

Dare Daniel – “LAW ABIDING CITIZEN”

indexLaw Abiding Citizen (2009; Dir.: F. Gary Gray)

GRADE: D-

By Daniel Barnes

I graduated from college a little over a decade ago, but judging by a cursory Google News search, one of the most annoying and frustrating aspects of my campus experience continues to this day – the flood of confrontational and determinedly offensive far-right religious protestors on campus. Typically, this would take the form of a single man, sometimes accompanied by meek family members, setting up in a high-traffic area of the campus quad and screaming hellfire insults at the students until a crowd gathered. The invective was too disgusting and too specifically targeted to forgive, yet the speaker was too evangelical in their beliefs to logically argue with, and their obvious mental illness made outrage an inappropriate response. I only bring this up because no matter what it says on IMDB, I’m 85 to 90 percent certain that one of those protesters from my college days wrote, produced and directed the shameless 2009 pile of garbage Law Abiding Citizen.

Ostensibly directed by F. Gary Gray and written by Kurt Wimmer, Law Abiding Citizen takes on the American justice system with all the sound logic and sensitivity of a disgustingly inhumane, LMAO-strewn comments page rant. It creates a universe where “fuck his civil rights” is a statement of moral evolution, where the real injustice is that American citizens can’t get convicted without representation purely on hearsay in secret trials.  In the anti-justice morass of Law Abiding Citizen, civil rights are the things that prevent you from getting home in time for your daughter’s cello recital.

imagesIf that vengeance-is-blind premise was the slingshot into pure, pig-rolling-in-its-own-slop exploitation, then this might have been a sickly enjoyable travesty. But what’s even more offensive than the glorification of torture and genital mutilation as soul-nourishing therapy throughout Law Abiding Citizen is that this solemnly slate-green screed actually thinks it has something important to say.  At one point, a character literally fiddles with the scales of justice – it’s as subtle as a giant placard pasted up with graphic pictures of aborted fetuses and quotations of scripture, but still about as complex as we get here.

When the film opens, family man Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is the victim of a vicious home invasion – two men break in, and one of them goes over the line with sadistic relish. Clyde is stabbed repeatedly in the chest, barely surviving his wounds, while his wife and young daughter are raped and killed in front of him. This is the film’s idea of a “grabber.”  Fast forward a few days or so to the trial of the century, and hotshot young prosecutor Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx, making me long for a couple bars of “Georgia on My Mind”) is preparing to cut a plea deal, partially to save his perfect win-loss record in court. Nick explains to Clyde that the DNA evidence against the assailants is inconclusive, and with flimsy physical evidence there is a strong possibility that a trial will result in an acquittal. “It’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove in court,” says Nick, a perfectly logical sentiment that the film predictably finds outrageous.

As it turns out, Nick cut a deal with the wrong man, letting the slimeball who instigated the rape and murder off with a 5-year sentence while his less culpable accomplice is given the death penalty. In the outrage coup de grace, the slimy, deal-cutting rapist is allowed to accost Nick on the courthouse steps as he’s being escorted back to prison, and they shake hands while a crestfallen Clyde watches from across the street. Fast forward another decade, and Nick has been promoted to District Attorney of Philadelphia, while Clyde, burning with righteous fury, used the time to become an expert on everything in the world.  The absurdities surrounding Clyde’s back story are abundant – all at once, he’s a superspy, an inventor, a government assassin with a “gift” for killing, a scientific genius, a clairvoyant, a legal expert, and, you know, just a regular guy pushed too far.

imagesNick attends the lethal injection ceremony for the man sentenced to death, but what is supposed to be a painless procedure instead results in prolonged and gruesome suffering. Given the recent events surrounding botched lethal injections, this seemed like a surprisingly prescient look at the fallibility of the death penalty. But no – even though Clyde knew that the man was being railroaded into an unfair sentence, we find out that he intentionally poisoned the injection in order make his death an infinitely more agonizing experience (the death penalty is probably the only aspect of the American justice system that Law Abiding Citizen unquestioningly supports).  This is the first clue we get that Clyde is enacting a revenge plot against the people (and the system, dammit) who wronged him, and also one of the first enactments of the film’s insane ideas about justice. Law Abiding Citizen can’t imagine anything more unjust than the concept of “lesser” crimes incurring “lesser” sentences, but here’s one: if they didn’t, and misdemeanors were punished by torture and death.

The film essentially re-imagines Les Miserables with Inspector Javert as the wronged victim of an unjust system.  In one of many sequences that hold a knife to the throat of decency and credibility, Clyde poses as a cop in order to capture the paroled rapist, and takes him back to a homemade torture chamber. As any grieving father would, Clyde systematically tortures, castrates, decapitates, eviscerates, and otherwise defiles the man, rigs a mirror so he’s forced to see the entire thing, attaches a photo of his wife and child so that they can “watch,” films the entire act, and personally delivers the tape to Nick’s preteen daughter, who pops it right into the player. It is right here that I should point out that Clyde represents the film’s idea of an uncompromising moral center.

All of this murder and malfeasance is linked back to Clyde, who is arrested at his home while Nick watches, a dynamic that the film finds deliciously ironic (it isn’t – Nick prosecutes mass murderers for a living).  Clyde is sent to prison, but his plan only deepens in intrigue and scope from his cell – with his encyclopedic knowledge of legal loopholes, Clyde is able to manipulate his way through the legal and penal systems, eventually landing into solitary confinement.  Even after Clyde is taken into custody, revenge murders keep occurring, leading Nick to believe there may be an accomplice on the outside. Eventually, this happens:

Don’t worry about her, because as Clyde is fond of reminding us, that woman was a total “bitch in heat.”  In fact, the film is as outraged by the preponderance of “bitches” in the American justice system as it is by sentencing guidelines or due process.  While Clyde stews in solitary confinement, more people are wantonly slaughtered on the outside, including a suffocated defense attorney and a series of car bomb explosions that target Nick’s co-workers.  In perhaps the goofiest twist of the last decade, we finally learn that Clyde owns a warehouse just outside the prison walls, and that he had already dug a tunnel leading to his cell in solitary confinement before his arrest.  All of those murders – it was Clyde sneaking out of his cell the entire time!  While no one noticed! Which is just fucking stupid.  Even worse, for a movie that goes this bananas, Law Abiding Citizen is a surprisingly boring watch, bloated and patchy all at once, with only morbid curiosity and reactionary disgust carrying the viewer from sadistic setpiece to sadistic setpiece.

imagesNaturally, Gray and Wimmer believe their perverted morality is instructive.  Clyde is defined by his rage against the system, so while his methods are portrayed as uncompromising and occasionally over-the-top, the film wants us to understand the righteousness of his cause. He is teaching us a lesson in justice (and, unwittingly, in the misuse of irony), toppling an unfair system, and attempting to create a new form of justice that can’t be gamed and manipulated by the so-called Constitution. In order to do this, he has to kill and maim a lot of people, simultaneously putting a major metropolitan city in a heightened state of terror, but it’s OK – after all, he’s a grieving husband and father.

But wait a minute…by inflicting a wave of mass murder on the Philadelphia justice system, Clyde also created a new generation of grieving family members. Clyde may view the dozens of anonymous lawyers that he incinerated in a series of car bomb explosions as guilty-by-association proprietors of an unjust legal system who deserved to die, but it’s unlikely that their spouses, parents, siblings, and children would have felt the same way.  That’s a major potential dent in the supposed righteousness of Clyde’s elaborate revenge scheme, but Gray “solves” this riddle by never showing or mentioning the families of his victims, instead putting the focus on Nick’s troubled family.

When Nick kills Clyde at the end, detonating C4 explosives in his prison cell, it is meant to signify an end to deal-cutting and manipulating of justice, but also an end to the pattern of slaughter.  If we take the film at it’s word, though, then what Nick really did was rob the grieving families of Clyde’s victims of their inalienable right to torture and emasculate Clyde with a box cutter, while pumping him full of adrenaline and administering a saline IV so he doesn’t pass out.  It’s what the founding fathers would have wanted, if they lived today, were all schizophrenic, and somehow mistook the Saw films for legal texts.

Dare Daniel XXV – “Freddy Got Fingered”

imagesFreddy Got Fingered (2001; Dir.: Tom Green)

GRADE: D+

By Daniel Barnes

The easiest and least honest way to dismiss the depressing grotesquerie of Tom Green’s Freddy Got Fingered is to malign the film solely for its wretched content. Yes, director-writer-star Green uses profoundly disturbing subjects like animal mutilation, pedophilia, bestiality, mutilated children, Rip Torn’s ass, sexual assault, dead babies, and Drew Barrymore as fodder for his unique brand of cognitively disassociated hijinks. But to dismiss a filmmaker solely for finding sick humor in offensive behavior and non-sequiters is to dismiss Bunuel and Jodorowsky and Lynch, to say nothing of Adam McKay.

Furthermore, to assert that certain subjects are off-limits as humor effectively stoppers the necessary anarchic spirit of comedy into an opaque bottle of safe ground. And while I feel that the practical joke is the lowest form of comedy (it’s no surprise to read that Green pledged a Canadian fraternity), I also take umbrage with the idea that Green’s cruel prankster character is a priori offensive – around the same time that Freddy Got Fingered was made, some of the edgiest and most memorable bits of David Letterman (a hero of Tom Green’s) revolved around fucking with strangers on the street.

images3As ever, the offense is in the execution – Freddy Got Fingered wants so badly to shock you out of your middlebrow complacency, but it’s never disturbing, only sad. That’s not to say that Green didn’t make exactly the film he wanted to make – it’s just that Green is a pathetically one-note provocateur.  Like a candy-grinning kindergartener, the only point of his ear-splitting tantrums is to annoy and exhaust, and dear God does he ever succeed. Green falls down on the floor in the crowded department store of your consciousness, kicking and wailing until he gets the wrong kind of attention. During a recent family fathering, my five year-old nephew began droning, “beee-do, beee-do, beee-do, beee-do,” almost to the point of madness. Eighty-seven minutes of that, and you have Freddy Got Fingered.

Green’s opus opens on his 28 year-old Gord Brody deliriously narrating his own shakily drawn comic strip to himself, and in its best and most unhinged moments, the film captures that feeling of an uncensored and unformed child mind at play. In its most repugnant and depressing moments, ditto. This is playing-in-the-mirror comedy stretched to feature length, and yet it is also most definitely NOT a window into Green’s “tortured” soul, just another elephant semen-soaked wall of narcissistic disaffection. Freddy Got Fingered only works as an eye-rolling expression of Green’s ugly view of humanity, and Green performs with all of the subtlety of a developmentally disabled man tearing apart an ice cream shop.

For the most part, Freddy Got Fingered sulks in the corner, demanding points for a fearlessness that it rarely achieves. Green compulsively undercuts his most socially subversive humor, virtually elbowing you in the ribs and assuring you that it’s all just a joke. The use of music is an especially egregious hedge – as Gord leaps out of his car to instinctively and ecstatically masturbate a horse penis, wacky hillbilly music plays on the soundtrack. When Gord leaps onto the conveyer belt at his factory job, clutches an oversized sausage to his crotch, and repeatedly screeches, “I’m a sexy boy! Ding dong!”, the song “I Gotta Be Me” is heard. It goes on like that – it’s extremely revealing of Green’s snide desperation that the only people who are visibly agitated by Gord’s dehumanizing behavior are rich snobs and snooty maître’ ds.

Even his clownish physical mannerisms are a back-slapping smirk reassuring us that all this rape and torture stuff is just a silly joke. In many respects, Freddy Got Fingered is the perfect “it-puts-the-lotion-in-the-basket” double feature with the previous Dare Daniel movie, Chairman of the Board. Carrot Top is essentially a children’s show entertainer doing a ribald act for adult audiences, while Tom Green is a pot-bellied, insecurely bearded adult acting like a hyperactive child. The stronger link is that both Carrot Top and Green are woefully limited as performers, and tolerable only in miniature doses, and so naturally their starring vehicles become water torture tests of psychological endurance.

index2It is strangely admirable that Green used the rarely achieved platform of auteur­-ship to craft the most off-putting vision imaginable, but the film he made is also stridently anti-wit and anti-intelligence. Almost all of the comedy in Freddy Got Fingered is based around pushing the gag barrier further and further – the punchline to a recurring gag about an injured child is that it looks like the kid is really spitting up blood and teeth. If an exposed broken bone or engorged animal penis enters the frame, it’s a sure bet that Green is going to put his tongue on it.  He repeatedly tests the electric fence of bad taste, much like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, so at least give Green credit for possessing the intelligence and comic timing of a prehistoric bird.

A Canadian public access weirdo turned MTV figurehead, Green really was a groundbreaking comic figure in the late 1990s/early 2000s.  He pioneered a form of anti-comedy beloved by you god damn millennials (don’t get me started!), a form made more popular by Jackass, and edged into the avant-garde with Tim and Eric.  The film is effective in the sense that waterboarding is effective, but the shock value of Freddy Got Fingered is still pitifully timid – Green crafts a sequence in which Gord shoves his hands into a pregnant woman’s vagina while she begs him to stop, then swings her momentarily deceasad baby around by its umbilical cord before cutting it with his teeth, but the denouement advocates for the same fuzzy-safe, crazy-folks-are-saner-than-us-normals inanity as Benny and Joon.  If the grade seems higher than normal for a Dare Daniel film, credit my affection for singular visions, even those that should have been left in the womb.

JULY DARE DANIEL POLL

Once again, we have a plethora of sadistic movie suggestions to choose from for this month’s Dare Daniel.  Thank you so much to all the sick bastards who submitted a Dare!  You can vote for the atrocity you would like me to review for the next edition of Dare Daniel in the poll on the right.  Here are the candidates:

Freddy Got Fingered [Dared by Frank M.]

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From Justin to Kelly [Dared by Matt B.]

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House of the Dead (2003) [Dared by Brandon G.]

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Law Abiding Citizen [Dared by Jesse D.]

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Lost Horizon (1973) [Dared by Tim S.]

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The Marine [Dared by Caroline H.]

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Million Dollar Hotel [Dared by @Sarah_Movies]

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Monster Brawl [Dared by Beau B.]

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Dare Daniel – “Chairman of the Board”

indexChairman of the Board (1998; Dir.: Alex Zamm)

GRADE: F

By Daniel Barnes

*Dared by Frank Miller (@frankinstereo)

It is quite common in vulgar juvenile comedies for the hero, usually a socially maladjusted and borderline deranged man-child, to be found irresistible by beautiful (usually blonde) women. Whether it is the lascivious skirt-chasing of Harpo Marx, the virgin panic of Jerry Lewis, the dewy-eyed pleading of Robin Williams, or Adam Sandler’s adorable idiot shtick, there is a rich vein of sexualizing overgrown, borderline developmentally disabled male adolescents in American comedy. You’re welcome, world.

Accepting that trope is part of accepting that most movies, especially dumb comedies, are made for junior high school boys and anyone else who thinks like them. These films sell the fantasy that even the pimply-faced, boner-hiding spazzes in their target audiences can score the hot blondes. That is pure suspension of disbelief, something essential to the appreciation of a zany comedy, but when the overgrown adolescent-spazz protagonist is as vile and sub-human as Carrot Top is in Chairman of the Board, that relatively innocent horndog sexualization turns into something incredibly disgusting.

index3In his only starring vehicle, Scott “Carrot Top” Thompson transfers the persona forged in his inexplicably successful prop comedy act onto the lead character of Edison, a manic, ginger-maned, out-of-work inventor who looks like a rodeo clown on crystal meth, keeps a dead cat in his refrigerator, steals clothes from a corpse, admits to having sex with farm animals, forces his employees to vomit for his own amusement, and screams every single line of dialogue at full volume.

As played by Carrot Top, the character of Edison is not really even a recognizable human being, which is why it is utterly revolting when the character engages in sexual activity, spews double entendres, and slobbers over Cindy Margolis. I’m sure Carrot Top pulled plenty of tail in his day, but he was famous, successful, and relatively wealthy – Edison is just a farm animal-fucking freak with dead cats in his fridge, and women are absolutely enchanted by this guy. It is one thing to tacitly accept that the puppet-headed CEO from the Jack in the Box commercials has procreated with his human wife, but it would be another thing if Jack kept talking about it in lurid detail.  That’s what we get here.

Of course, that gross dichotomy between the childishly clownish and the ribald was essential to Carrot Top’s comedy – he was basically a children’s party performer doing an act for a college-age crowd. In many respects, Chairman of the Board is the perfect cinematic expression of Carrot Top, and not just because it’s desperately unfunny. This is a kid’s movie made for a PG-13 audience, a squealing, farting, testicle-bruising, stomach-flu fever dream of fisheye lenses and garishly tilted camera angles. It is no surprise that Edison’s “love interest” Courtney Thorne-Smith looks nauseous and anxious in every scene.

When the story opens, Edison is a slacker surfer getting squeezed for money by his landlady, played at full volume by Seinfeld screecher Estelle Harris. She has allowed Edison and his two friends to live rent-free for a year, during which time they have completely trashed the property, but now believes that she should be duly compensated as per their contractual arrangement, and therefore she is evil. If you thought the self-righteous deadbeats in Rent were annoying, get a load of these guys.

In a fortuitous twist, Edison runs into a fabulously wealthy CEO played by Jack Warden, who is naturally delighted by this buffoon’s inane antics and scrapbook of invention ideas, most of which appear to be two-dimensional scribbles of theoretically complex machinery. “You’ve got a good head on your shoulders,” says Warden while flipping through the drawings. We at first assume he’s being polite and maybe a little condescending, since it looks like a baby drew them, but Warden is so impressed by Edison that he wills the entire company to him just before his death.

images2This comes as a shock to Warden’s last living relative Bradford (Larry Miller, doing his best), a man who, despite the undermining efforts of his flaky uncle (the guy who just willed a multinational corporation to a psychotic drifter that he met one time, remember), has slaved tirelessly to make his company a job-creating success, and is therefore evil. It is during this will-reading sequence at the funeral home that Edison tries to borrow clothes from an embalmed corpse, an act of grappling that a passerby mistakes for sexual congress. “We all have our different ways of saying goodbye,” he sighs. Side note: when you think you see someone fucking a dead body, wistful resignation at the transience of mortality is NOT the proper reaction.

Bradford has a secret plan to sell the company to a corporate pirate played by Raquel Welch, who instantly materializes whenever the story needs her, as though she were still in the world of Bedazzled. Edison “heroically” decides to save and expand the company, even though by the looks of their home office, the industrial pollution they dump into the environment makes Koch Industries look like Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. Even worse, Edison’s big idea to save the company is to create a self-microwaving TV dinner with a disposable television inside, a product that besides accelerating our planet’s E-waste to an apocalyptic pace, is a radioactive product intended for personal use that is rushed to market without a single safety test.

In the end, Edison exposes Bradford in front of the entire board, and Welch’s corporate raider switches sides, all because she wants to get in on the ground market of Edison’s latest invention: a farting, possibly radioactive shirt that publicly exposes its wearer as a liar and fraud – it sells itself! “That Bull Shirt of yours is worth millions!” she cries. Hilariously, it is assumed that there is a bottomless market for prop comedy in this universe, which considering the abysmal box office performance, thorough critical drubbing, and general unwatchability of Carrot Top’s lone movie vehicle Chairman of the Board, is an appropriately cruel irony.

Thanks again to Frank for the Dare!  If you have a terrible movie you would like torture me with, submit your Dares on Twitter using #daredaniel, or hit up E Street Film Society on Facebook.