Jeffrey Katzenberg described this Chris Elliott comedy as the strangest movie Touchstone had ever released. Most critics hated it, but it’s got “cult classic” written all over it. Elliott is Nathaniel Mayweather, a “fancy lad” who mistakenly boards the Filthy Whore, a grungy fishing boat. Nathaniel is thoroughly humiliated and debased by the crew until he falls in love with swimmer Melora Walters, loses his virginity to six-armed Ann Magnuson, and saves the crew from Magnuson’s jealous giant husband (Mike Starr). You have to be a bit of a sadist to enjoy the movie; most of the laughs come from the relentlessly annoying Nathaniel getting his lumps. Elliott, one of the most unusual and masochistic comedians ever to grace TV screens, does what he does best — he wouldn’t seem out of place as a mean kid (complete with beard) in a Pee-wee Herman movie — but the script starts losing steam when Nathaniel starts gaining acceptance. Still, a lot of Cabin Boy is genuinely inspired, especially Earl Hofert’s performance as an old salt who greets Nathaniel. Hofert has such a remarkable grasp of irony that he might make an excellent late-night TV host or weatherman. Co-produced by Tim Burton, of all people.
Archive for January 1994
They tried; you can tell they tried really hard. But $2 million just doesn’t buy much, not even in 1994. The backstory of The Fantastic Four has been well-documented elsewhere; briefly, Roger Corman’s company New Horizons owned the film rights to Marvel Comics’ flagship title, but the option was due to run out, and a movie had to be made quickly (and cheaply). So, with no actual intention of releasing it, Corman’s company embarked on what’s been universally recognized as one of the worst films ever made. As of this writing, it’s still officially unavailable, though poor-quality bootlegs are all over the web. Like The Star Wars Holiday Special, it has taken on the mystique of a legendarily crappy and, more importantly, suppressed piece of schlock. It’s therefore understandable that a lot of cult-film fanatics want to get ahold of it just to say they’ve seen it.
I can say I’ve seen it, but I don’t know what more there is to say that hasn’t already been said. Yes, the acting is uniformly atrocious, though the sub-comic-book dialogue would defeat far better actors. Yes, the special effects are “special” in the sense that kids who ride the short bus are special. Yes, the homoerotic subtext between Reed Richards and Victor von Doom is thick enough to cut with a spoon. Yes, the movie haplessly and unintentionally trashes the very appeal of the original Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comics, which derived their power from cosmic, world-shattering conflicts, whereas all we get here is some henchmen and a laser cannon.
Fantastic Four ’94 is more interesting as a cinema footnote than as actual cinema; it sets modest entertainment goals for itself and flunks those. The damn thing is diabolically watchable, though — you can rest assured that every few minutes, something memorably daft or lame will happen. Ironic fans of the film point with glee to the wonderful moment when blind sculptor Alicia Masters (Kat Green) is kidnapped and we get a point-of-view shot as she passes out from chloroform and the frame dims to black. It’s the sort of Asgardian blooper that Stan Lee used to hand out “No-Prizes” for when they showed up in the comics.
The movie begins, oddly, with science geek Reed Richards (Alex Hyde-White) and jock pal Ben Grimm (Michael Bailey Smith) in college, where Reed and colleague Victor von Doom (Joseph Culp) are planning some sort of experiment. It goes awry, as such things so often do, and Victor is left horribly scarred and near death. He’s presumed dead, though, and we skip forward ten years, when brother and sister Johnny and Sue Storm (Jay Underwood and Rebecca Staab) — whom we’d previously seen as children — re-enter the picture. The four decide to go on a rocket trip, and Johnny and Sue’s mom fatefully dubs the quartet “the Fantastic Four,” in a moment guaranteed to provoke eye-rolling among even the most forgiving fans. I mean, Christ, as much of a dork as Peter Parker is, at least Aunt May wasn’t the one to name him Spider-Man.
The rocket trip goes awry, as such things often do, and each member of the team ends up with strange powers. Reed can stretch (to the best of the effects budget’s meager abilities); Sue can turn invisible; Johnny catches fire; and Ben, after a while, turns into an orange, rocky behemoth known by generations of fans as the Thing. Oh, did I forget to tell you why this all happens? Because some troll-like thief known as The Jeweler stole the huge diamond Reed was going to use in the rocket. The Jeweler, who figures in no Fantastic Four comic to my knowledge, seems like a rip-off of the Penguin in Batman Returns crossed with the Mole Man from the first issue of FF. There’s really no reason for him to exist other than to inadvertently do the bidding of the real villain — Victor von Doom, who has renamed himself Dr. Doom and found himself a shiny metal mask and green cape. Dr. Doom laughs a lot — that muuuahahahaha kind of nefarious laughter. He does this often enough to enable a drinking game, though it helps to be drunk going into the movie.
Towards the end, Fantastic Four becomes an invaluable lesson in what was doable on a $2 million budget with 1994 technology. Johnny “flames on” and finally, instead of just setting his hand on fire, becomes what looks to be an early example of computer imaging — one of those humanoid figures you often saw in student animations in the early ’90s, only covered in flame. The Human Torch proceeds to outrun (or outfly, rather) a laser beam and deflect it with his incredible heat power, or something. Like I said, everyone tried real hard on this thing. (Speaking of which, the make-up work on the Thing is probably the movie’s best effort — they try to get as close as they can to the way he looks in the comics, though his face seems frozen in a scowl, missing the character’s occasional jolliness.) The movie is blathering nonsense, with one of the most charmingly awful scores in soundtrack history, but it has a certain cheapjack late-night appeal. If it ever had been released, I’m sure Mystery Science Theater 3000 would’ve built a classic episode on it.
A Canadian oddity that’s probably best suited to David Cronenberg completists. Cronenberg shows up about an hour in as an actor who visits a “boozecan” (illicit after-hours drug/alcohol party) thrown by the protagonist, Pasqua (Justin Louis, who bears a resemblance to Bob Geldof), who’s trying to open a bar and go legit. Cronenberg probably did it as a favor to director Nicholas Campbell, who acted in a few of his films (he was Frank Dodd in The Dead Zone). The movie in question isn’t bad — it shows the seldom-seen seedy side of Toronto — if somewhat aimless, with an unnecessary subplot in which Pasqua falls for a local Asian woman (Shirley Blanco). There’s also a weird cop (Eugene Lipinski) who’s obsessed with busting Pasqua and has a gay junkie under his control. Leslie Hope of 24 also appears as an undercover narc. This was one of those indie movies whose video rights were picked up by Blockbuster (where I bought my copy used). Cronenberg does do some of his better acting in his one scene. “Boozecans,” by the way, appear to be a Canadian thing.