Why the Hate?: Cabin Boy
This is one of those movies I remember hearing about as a kid and always been curious to see how it plays out. It had a lot that interested me. An adventure on the sea, all sorts of strange and cool monsters as well as some neat looking visuals. Again, I never saw “Cabin Boy” but knew of its existence. And when the dawn of the Internet came into my reach and began expanding my knowledge of film history, I would learn that the cult following for this one was relatively small. In fact, this movie today is decreed as so bad that many disregard it as the worst or even straight bad. Which is a shame seeing there is clearly a lot of talent behind it. Chris Elliot not only stars but also writes the screenplay, Tim Burton (who couldn’t direct due to duties with Batman Returns) produces and there is clearly a lot of effort in trying to make this a grand eye-visual please. At least in where it tries to be grand on a small scale. So what is it about this movie that rubs people the wrong way?
Chris Elliot plays Nathaniel Mayweather, a self-centered snob with rich folks and crass dialogue that is sarcastically harsh but funny from time to time. And I know what your going to ask, it is one of those movies. The jerk goes on a journey of self-discovery and later learns to be a better person. The character arch isn’t that interesting but you have to give Chris Elliot credit. He really tries with the material even when the scenes he’s in are hit and miss. What works best of the character in my opinion in just how crass he is to not just the poor but even the higher-class too. It shows that he’s not the kind that is into his rich lifestyle but perceived as a grown up spoiled brat. Again most of the comedy works from his child-like antics but I can see this being done better with someone like Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman) or even Martin Short.
Anyway through a huge misunderstand with a direction sign, he boards a fishing boat on accident thinking at first its a theme boat. But as the captain and crew get annoyed of his snotty attitude, the salty sailors appoint him as a cabin boy and try to find a way to get rid of him. All the while, Nathaniel tries to make things work with the grumpy fishermen as he tries to find his way to Hawaii in order to meet with his father or something like that. I guess you can sort of see the big problem here. There is little to no plot to keep an interest from time to time. Most of the movie takes part on the boat and trying to find something funny with the characters. And to be honest, a comedy can work that way but viewers like to have a story to follow or at least something engaging. This is really the weakest problem as the snobby lad goes from serving fish stick kittens for dinner to swabbing the deck with nothing but soap and his tongue. Its a movie that really feeds on jokes and gags than really giving a compelling story.
Honestly when the comedy works, it does work. There’s a scene when Nathaniel is set adrift on a small raft and has these weird illusions which does take a weird but funny turn. Chris’s material shows his innocent comedy by trying to keep positive despite the harsh conditions from using cooking oil as sun screen to going bonkers. And that’s sort of this movie in a nutsell. Its one gag after another and you wait for the next to come by. Dare I say, its one of those kind of movies you watch with a friend just to see how they react. You either laugh along or pray there is a good joke.
Also for a movie that was given a low budget, I’m surprised to see how much effort they tried to put into the special effects. In an interview, director Adam Resnick mentioned how he had a hard time trying to make this movie as it was originally meant for Tim Burton to direct. And yeah, I can see where he is coming from. Trying to attempt one’s vision is not easy unless you have someone who understands what he or she had in mind. But I think it was a good attempt. Some of the designs in the monsters have a Burtonesque quality even if they feel simplistic. The visual look does have a Burtonesque quality even right down to those curtain backdrops. Again, “Cabin Boy” was made on a very low budget but you can tell they really tried to make something out of it. You still get some creative visuals like a ship in a stormy sea or a stop-motion ice monster. Even the make-up job on creatures like a half-man, half-shark being or a six armed goddess really shows what can be done with practical work. A testament to how well something real and in front of the camera can work compared to CGI.
Even the performances are not that bad either. Brian Doyle-Murry plays on the shipmates who knows his mythology and despite the movie he’s in you know he tries. There’s also some cameos by David Letterman and Andy Richter who get a funny line or two as well as some small running gags that are cute. I can’t say there is a bad performance or even one that was painful annoying. There were all around ok.
The only reason I can see why some viewers hated “Cabin Boy” on arrival was by how mismanaged the production was from the studio and what they didn’t know what to expect from its bizarre comedy. As a whole, the comedic tone is sort of a demented Popeye cartoon crossed with the surreal nature of Spongebob Squarepants. If this was done in better hands like Henry Selick, perhaps “Cabin Boy” would be molded into a better film. But from what I saw, I felt it was alright. I’m glad I finally got around to seeing it considering the continuing mixed reception that’s been building. It feels like a throwback to those fantasy movies of the 1930s with really cheap effects and silly stuff from time to time. But if that’s not your kind of fun, I understand. I just think its a silly comedy that really tried. Nothing too horrible or insulting to the eyes bad but far from perfect. Give it a rent and judge for yourself.
Posted on August 4, 2015, in Rental Corner, Why the Hate? and tagged Andy Richter, Cabin Boy, Chris Elliot, Comedy, Cult Classic, David letterman, Fantasy, Popeye, spongebob squarepants, Strange, surreal, Tim Burton, Weird, Why the Hate. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.