Thursday, November 7, 2013
I'll Watch Anything: Patrick Watches Chairman of the Board
I have gone 15 years without seeing Chairman of the Board, the starring vehicle for hugely successful prop comic-turned-Nightbreed Carrot Top. How I made it this long I cannot say. I saw Ringmaster, the Jerry Springer movie, during its theatrical run. I saw Spice World the night it opened. From Justin to Kelly? You bet. How did I miss out on the Top?
This will not be a screed on whether or not Carrot Top is funny as a comic. First of all, that's a stupid, lazy reference. Ha ha, he uses props and that's dumb! Go fuck yourself. Second, I don't know enough about his comedy to make that kind of judgment. From what I have seen, I don't find him funny. But he has had a long, successful career touring colleges and becoming a permanent fixture in Las Vegas, so obviously he has his fans. I know he uses props, and I know that some people think that's lame. I don't have a problem with Carrot Top using props, just as I don't have a problem with Jeff Dunham using puppets. I have a problem with Jeff Dunham being racist and hateful, which I don't think can be said of Carrot Top. Again, I haven't seen his Vegas show.
Plus, the quality of Carrot Top's stand-up has little to do with his viability as a movie star. I am not a fan of Andrew Dice Clay's comedy act, but I like Andrew Dice Clay as an actor (and, just to validate my 20-year defense of him, he was great in this year's Blue Jasmine and forced even the cynics to take him seriously). It is possible to divorce the two. You don't have to love Weird Al Yankovic's music in order to love UHF (I don't want to know you if you don't love his music). Sure, it helps, because you're entering as a fan, but funny is funny and stand-up has nothing to do with what works on film. Chris Rock is one of the greatest stand-up comics of all time and can't make a movie work to save his life. It stands to reason that Carrot Top could be a hacky, unfunny comic and still make a really funny movie.
Chairman of the Board is not that movie.
But wait, it gets even more interesting! There is a sniveling Larry Miller type (played by Larry Miller) who wants control of the company so he can sell it to a RWILF (played by Raquel Welch), so he decides to sabotage Edison's efforts. But then his plan backfires and Edison's latest invention -- a TV dinner with a built-in TV -- takes off! But Edison gets a big head and forgets his roots! He becomes a real jerk! And then the company faces a lawsuit and Edison has to remember who he used to be and save the day! And then I take my phone off the hook and drink all the bleach in my house!
Chairman of the Board has to be one of the most aggressively unpleasant comedies I've ever seen, its every moment devoted to being as ugly, loud and obnoxious as possible. It is a movie informed entirely by episodes of The Monkees and Slim Jim commercials, all canted angles, wide angle close-ups and exaggerated set design. Clearly, a huge influence for everyone involved was Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, a film that made a star out of a well-developed comic persona by reflecting that persona in every frame, from the music to the editing to the art direction. I guess that's what director Alex Zamm is going for here, but the aesthetic he chose suggests that Carrot Top is a horrible human being from whom everyone should stay away.
Don't take my word for it. Look for yourself:
Doesn't it make you desperate to NOT see another second? Doesn't it give you a headache? The obnoxious, ugly photography? The shouting of the dialogue? The constant stupid sound effects? These were not marketing choices added for the purposes of the trailer. THAT IS WHAT THE WHOLE MOVIE IS LIKE. You know the last scene of the trailer, in which an elderly woman licks her lips and tries to give CPR to a man who is CLEARLY FUCKING CONSCIOUS? That's the last scene of the movie. That's how it ends. Leave them laughing, I always say. And if you can't do that, leave them hating their lives.
Chairman of the Board plays like anti-comedy. It opens with baby Edison (played by a baby in a Carrot Top wig, a sight gag that's a good indication of the level of humor to follow) inventing something while inside his mother's womb. This means that the filmmakers had to build a realistic-looking INSIDE OF A UTERUS to film for the OPENING OF THEIR COMEDY MOVIE. Ah, the inside of the human body. So pink, so gross, so hilarious.
Or take this comic premise that is also ugly and offensive: Estelle Harris (better known as Mrs. Costanza) plays Carrot Top's landlady, a nagging shrew perpetually clad in a housecoat and rollers. That's not the part that's ugly and offensive. It's the fact that she speaks through one of those Electrolarynx devices used by people missing their voice boxes. There is no explanation for why she needs this, which means someone just thought it would be funny. It's not. It's just grotesque and mean spirited. Maybe it's because this was 1998 and a character on South Park was using one? Option B suggests the filmmakers are thieves. Option A suggests they are dicks.
The plot has all the creativity of an '80s TV movie. Why is it that the central conflict of so many contemporary comedies hinges on business and finance? Whether it's kids' "comedies" like Yogi Bear, The Flintstones or The Smurfs or movies like Trading Places, Billy Madison, Tommy Boy -- they're all concerned with who is going to run the company, or whose product is going to succeed, or who is going make money and who is going to be financially ruined (and don't get me started on the whole subgenre of movies about dads who work to much and have to learn to value their families more). It's a cheap, lazy way of establishing dramatic stakes and finding a way for the childish main character to "grow up": once he or she (but always he) can run a successful corporation -- or, as is often the case, has grown wise enough to pass the company along to someone more deserving -- we know he has grown up. And isn't that what's most important? Following the status quo? Every one of these comedies is about the path from anarchic individualism to corporate conformity -- oversized personalities that need to be tamed. This film is no different.
Because I've spent my life romanticizing movies, I forget sometimes that acting is a job like any other job. People need to work. Chairman of the Board is a harsh reminder of that fact. Watching otherwise talented people like Jack Warden, M. Emmet Walsh, Raquel Welch and Larry Miller (not to mention Taylor Negron, Fred Stoller, Glenn Shadix, Estelle Harris and Rance Howard) suffer through the indignity of appearing the Carrot Top movie is a depressing reminder that professional movie stars have bills and a mortgage and will one day die like the rest of us. Yes, Chairman of the Board is a reminder that we will all die. ( - Patrick Bromley, F This Movie!)
Or maybe everyone involved wanted to get in on the ground floor of what was sure to be Carrot Top's huge movie career. Again, it had happened before; the '90s success of Pauly Shore, Movie Star is clearly the model being followed by everyone here. But Pauly Shore never made a movie as bad as Chairman of the Board.
Maybe Bio-Dome. I haven't seen Bio-Dome.
Chairman of the Board was the feature directing debut of filmmaker Alex Zamm, whose very name is the onomatopoeic equivalent of the movie: ZAMM!! He has since become the go-to guy for shitty direct-to-video sequels like Tooth Fairy 2, Inspector Gadget 2, Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts, Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2 and the upcoming The Little Rascals Save the Day. There is little I can say about his "style" or the choices he makes here that I haven't beaten to death already. He clearly wants to inject the movie with a lot of manic energy, but it's all Fake Fun.
On paper, there's a lot about Chairman of the Board that makes sense. Carrot Top was a very popular comedian with a recognizable name and face. It stands to reason that he would make the leap to film, because that was popular career path in the '90s. He has the kind of manic, loud energy that lends itself to this kind of comedy, and casting him as an inventor allows for him to lean on a bunch of his homemade props. Had the movie come out in 1993, it might have done ok. But while it released was just five years later, 1998 was a very different landscape in which to drop a Carrot Top movie. America was no longer putting up with this kind of shit. Pauly Shore movies were on the way out. This is a movie that must have felt dated the weekend it opened.
Not that anyone noticed. The movie made about $300,000 in its theatrical run despite being made for a budget of $10 million. For you mathmagicians, that's less than five percent of its cost. The thing shit the bed is what I'm saying.
I usually try to find something positive to say about these "I'll Watch Anything!" movies, maybe because it makes for a more useful discussion and maybe because I'm trying to rationalize wasting my time. I'm having a tough go of it with this one. I'm told Chairman of the Board is a comedy, so I guess I can give it points for that. Wanting to make people laugh is a noble thing. Whether or not one succeeds in that pursuit is another thing.