Undeniably Funny Stuff
|Starring:||Eric Fleming, Robert Culp, and James Edson|
Rick knows cars—he finds them and he steals or repossesses them–a legal form of car theft. His partner, the Colonel played by Robert Culp, has been out of the workforce for some time. When asked why he is out with Rick involved in the repossession business, he tells Rick:
“Let me tell you something, a young fellow like yourself can spend all his time dreaming about the future, and then all of the sudden without even knowing it you stop and you just dream about the past.”
Culp then yawns and says that he used to be good at this repo stuff and he thinks he can get it back.
“The Almost Guys” is an undeniably funny comedy featuring a wonderful self-deprecating performance by the ageless Robert Culp who demonstrates why “I Spy” (the 1965-1968 television series in which Culp starred) was not just a vehicle for the comedic talents of Bill Cosby. Culp is funny damnit, and in “The Almost Guys” he is a riot.
“The Almost Guys” is the ludicrous story of Rick Patrick Murphy (Eric Fleming) a motor head Irish American who has never grown up. Rick’s wife has divorced him and now lives with his son. When Rick visits them, you can tell that his ex-wife still loves him, but that she, at some point, outgrew him. Rick’s son, appropriately named Buddy (Oliver Davis), looks upon his dad with some trepidation and is not too surprised when Rick doesn’t remember the date of his own son’s birthday.
In a novel plot twist Rick and the Colonel repossess a car from a couple of Italian fellows with a guy in the trunk. The guy in the trunk is James Maxwell (James Edson) a professional baseball pitcher set to pitch in the World Series. James explains that he had been kidnapped by the Mob and needed their help to pay off gambling debts. James easily (maybe too easily) convinces the Colonel and Rick that given the fact they have inadvertently rescued James, they may now be the target of the Mob themselves. Rick takes Buddy along fearing that the Mob may try to harm Buddy to get to Rick. From there an already hard to believe story gets even more unbelievable. But you don’t care, because, frankly, the events are funny, funny, funny.
I cannot emphasize what a joy it is to see Robert Culp in this film. He is such a delight. For example, in one scene James, Rick, Buddy, and Culp’s Colonel all stand at a row of urinals attempting to relieve themselves. Given the troubling events and nerves, the four have trouble getting started. They turn to the Colonel for advice because obviously given his age he would have experience in this area. In a scene that could have been painful (I usually think this kind of low brow comedy is not funny), Culp plays the Colonel with a measured amount of humility and doles out advice to get folks started that I will not give away here but works.
Culp’s performance is smart because he uses his age not to make fun of older folk, but in a realistic way that empathetically sells the character. In fact, the script is smart enough to know that only Culp could effectively play the Colonel and made me wonder whether it was written with him in mind. Recently, I had the privilege of talking with comedian George Carlin about his role as Ben Affleck’s character’s father in “Jersey Girl.” I asked Carlin what it was like playing a father in the film and he responded with something like, well, I wasn’t up for the role of the son. The point is that when an actor reaches a certain age, the universe of characters they can play significantly shrinks. In Culp’s case, he has embraced his age with wit and humility and in “The Almost Guys” delivers his best performance in years. As the Colonel, Culp cocks a puffy mesh ball cap to one side atop his head in a terrifically unflattering manner and colorfully embodies the role. Like Robert Forster in “Diamond Men,” Culp has found a role in a little film that gives him something winning to do. More actors from Culp’s era ought to take these kinds of risks.
I remember watching “Comedian” in San Francisco while on a business trip a couple years ago. In “Comedian” Jerry Seinfeld visits with Bill Cosby. Prior to his visit, Chris Rock describes how unbelievable Cosby is on stage. There is a reverence for Cosby who is, of course, perfect on stage, but apart from a few films from yester-year never quite was able to capture that same magic on the big screen. Seeing Culp in “The Almost Guys” made me wonder whether Cosby could make the jump again to the big screen in a similar role. I think to get back in the game with something fresh it takes trust and humility both of which Culp had to have when taking on the role of the Colonel.
Unfortunately, all too often in films these days you see awful cameo appearances (or bit roles) by former stars in bad movies. Ultimately, the bad movie DVD rental box will promote the film on the strength of the former star’s name. You know that the star was either doing someone a favor or worse, just needed the money. In “The Almost Guys” you can tell that while Culp might be getting paid for his work on the screen he is certainly having a good time working. Like the Colonel, Culp must have remembered that he was good at this comedy thing and believes that he can get it back.
There are problems with “The Almost Guys.” I did not like the continuous use of the f— word in the presence of and directly to the ten-year old child Buddy. In fact, in one over-played scene, Buddy actually employs the word himself. This was completely unnecessary. Culp’s character doesn’t use such language and the baseball player, James, would be accustomed to restraining his tongue given his appearances on TV. Therefore, I thought that the language hurt the film because its target audience, which would include Culp fans, might be offended by the gratuitous use of the f— word. This is especially true given the present conservative leanings of American audiences. Without the f— word, “The Almost Guys” would be perfect family viewing. The corny, but certainly funny, comedy in this movie feels like a family film that might have been made in the late 70s or early 80s. At one point, a character says something like, “this is so Cannonball Run.” Clearly, the objective of the director is to elicit a shameless smile harkening back to the time of slapstick simple comedy and could have cleaned up the language to capture that market.
These days it is really hard to know what will attract wide audiences. The Farrelly brothers (today’s Zucker brothers) are up and down with their irreverent approach to story-telling. Most comedies involve ridiculous events and stupid decisions. Part of “The Almost Guys” reminded me of 1986’s “Ruthless People,” but that film focused on adults and failed marriages and issues that did not directly include children. “The Almost Guys” makes a concerted effort to focus on Rick’s relationship with his son Buddy and such scenes are smart and even touching.
I understood that Rick was a big kid that did not have a parent/child relationship with Buddy. If you look at the film this way, perhaps, the use of harsh adult language in the young boy’s presence is understandable. Still, comedy directors (as opposed to hard-hitting dramatic pieces) should take careful note that the use of children in films these days should be a wholesome as possible. In addition, the writer/director/star Eric Fleming plays Rick in a laid back terribly likeable manner with an enlightened sense of his character’s place in the world. I’ll bet that we will see more of the gregarious Fleming in the future.
Aside from the language problem, the kidnapping story in “The Almost Guys” is just not credible. Of course, neither were the events that transpired in “Ruthless People” so many years ago, yet, we bought them, and I gave into the incredulities in “Guys.” And given patience, so will you.
“The Almost Guys” tries out a lot of subplots any one of which might support its own feature film. For example, the character of the Monk is awesome. The Monk is the owner of a muscle car repossessed by Rick and the Colonel at the film’s opening. Rick’s fight and flight from the Monk is perfect for the film’s opening credit sequence. During such shots and in the film’s final closing credits, great Irish music is utilized which playfully sets a comedic tone. I wonder what it would be like to put writer/director Eric Fleming in the same room with Troy Duffy the writer/director of “The Boondock Saints” another film with Irish heroes—oh, the stories they would tell while consuming bottles of Jameson.
Rick and the Colonel should team up again, because they have other adventures to take involving other muscle cars to repossess with hidden treasure in the trunk. This outing may be the beginning of a new comedy buddy team and maybe next time, they can lure out another former star who once was good at this comedy thing and just might be able to get it back.