Good gravy and big blue bananas, it’s Burl! Yes, I’m here to review another movie, and this time it’s the famous garbage comedy Men At Work, which I saw in the theatre back when it came out in the late summer of 1990! Why did I go see such a movie on the big screen? At this late date I can’t tell you, and now, having re-watched the thing for the first time since that mysterious and long-ago evening, I’m even more perplexed about it!
Let’s take a look at some of the other comedies released that year: Loose Cannons, Madhouse, House Party, Nuns on the Run, Opportunity Knocks, Ernest Goes to Jail, Crazy People, Far Out Man, Cadillac Man, Ghosts Can’t Do It, Ghost Dad, Betsy’s Wedding, Quick Change, The Freshman, My Blue Heaven, Taking Care of Business, Sibling Rivalry, Look Who’s Talking Too, Almost an Angel, and others I’m too disgusted to bother typing out! But glance through those titles, ha ha – with a couple of exceptions (Quick Change, mostly), all of them are reportedly terrible scourges that have roundly earned their historical obscurity! I’ve seen exactly two of those movies, The Freshman and My Blue Heaven, and of those only one, The Freshman, did I see in the theatre! And that was the cheapo second-run dollar theatre, ha ha!
So what am I getting at here? Well, to its discredit, Men At Work fits right in with all those other debouchments, and yet something drew me to the cinema to fork over my hard-earned bucks and 98 minutes of my youth to see the thing even as I properly ignored all the others! Did it stand out somehow in the blasted post-apocalyptic landscape of 1990 comedy film? I couldn’t tell you! Maybe I won tickets in a radio station contest or something!
It’s the tale of two idiot garbagemen, one, Carl, played by Charlie Sheen from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and No Man’s Land, and the other, James, essayed by his brother Emilio Estevez, whom we know from Nightmares and Maximum Overdrive and who also wrote and directed this thing! Unsurprisingly they’re not very good at the job – they throw cans all over the street and make a lot of noise, and they roll discarded bowling balls all over the neighbourhood!
As a sort of probation, their boss, played by Estevez’s old Repo Man buddy Sy Richardson, assigns his brother-in-law to ride along with them! The brother-in-law turns out to be a guy named Louis, played by Keith David from The Thing and Road House, a hair-trigger Vietnam vet prone to flashbacks and general grumpy behaviour! And while all this is going on, a whistleblowing city councilman played by Darrell Larson from When Time Ran Out… and Six Weeks is threatening to grass on a corrupt slickback called Maxwell Potterdam III, who manufactures paint thinner and is played by John Getz from The Fly II! Potterdam III is dumping yellow barrels of waste into the ocean, and the councilman has the whole caper recorded on a cassette tape!
There’s a confusion of course, and the councilman’s comely campaign manager Susan, played by Leslie Hope from Crimson Peak, ends up with the herring-cassette, the councilman is killed by assassins, and the garbagemen end up with the corpse, which has been stuffed into one of the yellow barrels! Ha ha, they never go full Weekend At Bernie’s with the body, but it gets pretty close a couple of times! Then things become all about male duos, Platonic shadows of our dimwit heroes! The garbagemen have trouble with three separate pairs of antagonists: local bike cops who hassle them, essayed by John Putch from Jaws 3-D and Tommy Hinkley from L.A. Story; co-workers with whom they’re in a prank war, played by Geoffrey Blake from Secret Admirer and Cameron Dye from Fraternity Vacation; and hit men in Potterdam III’s employ who are chasing them for the cassette, and also to kill them, played by John Lavachielli from Time Walker and Hawk Wolinski from Electra Glide in Blue! And so Louis doesn't feel left out of the duello structure, he gets a comrade when he and the garbagemen kidnap a pizza man played by Chainsaw from Summer School!
It all devolves, as much as anything already so primitive can devolve, into a series of location shifts occasionally bridged by chases! An unforgivable lack of jokes - or, if jokes be present, they’re stolen from other movies, like Better Off Dead – keeps the thing scraping along at ground level; logic is never a consideration; there's no suspense; and the characterizations are thinner than a spaghettini! The garbagemen are half-assedly given a goal (to jointly open a surf shop) and some allegedly solveable personality problems (though the vast majority of their defects remain on display but unmentioned and unchanged), and then virtually none of this is followed through in any way! The garbagemen at the end have defeated the bad guy, sort of, we assume; but, except for a romance between Carl and Susan, they have not improved their situations in any way! In fact I think they’d be unlikely to keep their jobs and stay out of jail, if the movie had decided to cover the next six or so hours of their lives! Ha ha, of course scrupulous reality is not what I was after with this picture, but an occasional airy wave in that direction might have been nice! And, sorry Emilio, I like you man, but it’s all shot with a minimum of art and mostly, and criminally, absent the sort of peppy entertainment the 80s did so well! (Sure, this came out in 1990, but I think it was written at least a half-decade earlier - it's 80s material all right!) Anyway, I may have enjoyed it in the theatre, just because it was being projected onto a big screen, but I don’t think so! I give Men At Work one short golf clap!
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