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1 review, 2 user ratings

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Whoopee Boys, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Dreadful So-Called Comedy"
1 stars

Collected an ultra-pathetic $444,746 gross at the U.S. box office, it should be avoided like the Bubonic plague.

I was one of the few who defended director John Byrum for his much-maligned 1984 adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s classic novel The Razor’s Edge that Byrum scripted with Bill Murray who starred as the conflicted protagonist who rejected materialism for internal fulfillment. Many derided the movie for being opaquely vague, but I congratulated it for not spelling everything out and not offering clear-cut answers to complex situations, which came as a surprise being that I hated Byrum’s previous pictures that strove for an organic eccentricity they just couldn’t sustain -- you were all too aware of the attempt at art rather than the actual achievement of it. While it was definitely a mistake for Byrum and Murray to not have updated the story from the World War II era (the movie occasionally got weighed down by top-heavy production design and exuded a modernistic attitude that simply didn’t fit with the period), it was uncommonly nuanced and boasted spectacular supporting performances that helped make up for Murray’s sometimes-affecting/sometimes-reticent work in the lead. Now Byrum has unleashed a true monstrosity on an unsuspecting public, the so-called comedy The Whoopee Boys, which he didn’t write but he did (badly) direct, and it’s so awful from start to finish that it makes me semi-ashamed for having stuck up for him before. In what is one of the miscasting decisions in cinematic history, Byrum has chosen Michael O’Keefe and Paul Rodriguez as his buddy-movie duo, and they’re as charming and amusing as a tax seminar instructed by Yul Brynner. We’re introduced to O’Keefe’s Jake Bateman and Rodriguez’s Barney Benar as they work their con-artist smarts on a big-city street, and after their racket is broken up by the police they pester the woman of an auto-drive-away company into letting them take a Cadillac to Palm Beach (in what’s supposed to be a laugh riot, Jake threatens to eat all of her goldfish unless she relents), and in a major continuity lapse we see them arriving at the destination six weeks late with the car in a most dilapidated condition. Shabbily dressed and ill-mannered, they intrude upon a party at the house of the owner of the Cadillac and proceed to act obnoxious and uncouth in the midst of all these well-heeled society types scoring free food and drinks. But then Jake sets his sights on the attractive Shelley (Elizabeth Arlen), who (inexplicably) finds Jake charming and divulges that she’s a heiress who runs a school for underprivileged children that will be bought out from under her by a developer wanting to replace it with condominiums; she needs to marry so she can use the inheritance to keep the school, but her snotty uncle has to approve of her suitor before he’ll agree to hand over her money, so Jake and Barney enlist themselves in a low-rent charm school in the Everglades so Jake can be convincing to the uncle, which leads to a tired series of fish-out-of-water scenes with our duo undergoing etiquette lessons in fine dining, wine tasting, thank-you-note writing and the like; the class is chock-full of misfits, of course (including a foul-tempered black cop with the last name of White), and Jake is singled out by the head grifter of the school, the uppity Colonel Phelps (Denholm Elliott), who takes Jake under his wing and shows him that a mere few hundred dollars can purchase falsified major-university diplomas and class rings to fool those in the higher echelon of society.

The Whoopee Boys wants to be a bawdy genre exercise like Animal House, and although that John Landis-directed classic was crude and largely inept it at least offered up a few standout moments that sort of justified its existence, but Byrum just doesn’t have it in him to be enjoyably lowbrow. The movie is disjointed and punctuated by one unfunny bit after another that even the most coked-up studio executive could’ve seen as unworkable; Byrun’s merely doing an imitation of a vulgarian without having it in him to be even remotely inspired, and he falls back on bottom-basement hodgepodge minus visual invention -- it’s like having a third-rate comic actor slop food on your plate during a dinner-theater performance. God knows the screenplay-by-committee (three writers are credited, none of whom have a single decent movie on their resume) is lackluster to the extreme, with Rodriguez spewing dialogue by the unctuous likes of “You can call me the Boner of East L.A.” and “Gandhi defeated the British empire with like a million 7-Eleven workers.” Speaking of which, Rodriquez, a stand-up comic, is zenith-level unappealing and about as uproarious as a loud burp in church; he’s all on one abrasive level and hasn’t a clue as to how to modulate so as to build to something resembling a payoff. What you see is what you get, and that he’s physically unattractive doesn’t help him in our eyes. (Watching him is like watching the most repulsive attraction in a freak show.) And O’Keefe really doesn’t come off any better. He etched acute portraits in the supporting ranks in Caddyshack and The Great Santini, but two years prior in the Neil Simon-scripted The Slugger’s Wife he was given his first starring performance in a potential box-office winner, but the movie tanked and O’Keefe was unaccountably aloof and sullen, as if he were above such incidentals as dexterity and temerity. At the onset, when Jake is supposed to be brazenly charming he’s more like a bastardized child no mother could love (you can see O’Keefe trying to be charismatically effortless, and we’re all too aware of the effort behind it), and later on down the line when he’s pretending to be a highly-intellectual snoot we’re starved for the kind of physical stylization that would give the role some girth -- O’Keefe simply isn’t imaginative enough to supply the necessary colors and panache. Then again, this is the kind of monstrosity of a motion picture that tries getting laughs out of a character named Eddie Lipshitz (played by that quintessential geek actor Eddie Deezer), which leaves it up to that fabulous British thespian Elliott to provide the proceedings its only non-boo-hiss-worthy moments. Byrum used Elliott to fine effect in The Razor’s Edge (he had a deathbed scene any actor would be proud of), and Elliott takes his role here and lends it an assurance that puts O’Keefe and Rodriguez to shame -- it’s like watching an ace car salesman sell Porsches while the novices underneath him are struggling to sell Hondas. With his hair a bit longer than usual and exuding a world-knowingness with the mere turn of a phrase, Elliott cuts such a commanding figure we wish the entire movie had revolved around him. As it unfortunately happens, we’re intended to be persuaded by the titanic terror of a couple that is O’Keefe and Rodriguez, and they’re as tantalizing as the mutant rejects of an ant farm.

As bad as it gets.

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originally posted: 05/15/15 08:48:29
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User Comments

1/11/18 paully b and the crew funniest movie ever. period 5 stars
5/16/15 felix Forget the critics, this movie was great. Paul R. was hilarious 5 stars
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  22-Aug-1986 (R)



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