Sunday, September 9, 2012

How You Doin'? Well, honestly, not so hot

If there's one nook in television land that encapsulated the latter end of the 1990s, it can be found in Central Perk. Never a fan myself (I'd much rather share a big salad with Elaine while rolling my eyes at George's latest antics and poking the bill towards Jerry), I can at least appreciate the influence that Friends had on the landscape of American pop culture. Yes, All In the Family was groundbreaking and Arrested Development was utter brilliance, but neither show can boast a haircut named after its lead.

How odd then, that in the center of its smash success most of Friends' fresh-faced stars (well, most and David Schwimmer) would stumble through such box office failure. Though Courteney Cox lucked out with Scream and Lisa Kudrow enjoyed moderate success in the lovable Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion, the other few made bland to horrible choices of how to spend their hiatus. Jennifer Aniston bored audiences in The Object of My Affection, while Matthew Perry bumbled in Almost Heroes. Despite the growing stigma of being typecast as their NBC counterparts, I imagine all six of those future millionaires were relieved to slip back into that studio.

None more so than Matt LeBlanc, who easily made the worst decision of all his costars--and possibly, all NBC actors ever--by signing up to star in Ed.

Let me explain: Ed is a movie about a minor league pitcher who finds his curveball after befriending the team's new third baseman, a farting chimp.

Do I need to say that again? Ed is a movie about a minor league pitcher who finds his curveball after befriending the team's new third baseman, a farting chimp. 

You see where we're going with this...

Quick Plot: On a sunny green farm in Oregon, Matt LeBlanc plays Joe--

Look, let's get one thing straight: I am not going to refer to any character Matt LeBlanc plays as anything but Joey until I deem the man worthy of shedding that skin. I didn't even watch Friends but throughout Ed, I found myself completely incapable of remembering LeBlanc's character's name and hence, I'm just saying it's Joey. If you don't like that, then go find another blog that's about to devote far too many words to Ed, the movie about a minor league pitcher who finds his curveball after befriending the team's new third baseman, a farting chimp.

That's what I thought.

Joey is an aw-shucks savant of sorts who gives up homer after homer while playing for the Rockets, a minor league team composed of 'wacky' players with unmemorable quirks (cross-eyed, clumsy, preppy, Hispanic). In order to boost fan interest, the slimy owner brings in a chimpanzee for mascot duty but GET THIS: the furry guy is like, TOTALLY a good ballplayer. Before you can say "I DIDN'T SEE THAT ONE COMING!", Ed Sullivan (because why not?) is as big a star as any minor league player can be.

And 23 minutes into Ed, the monkey farts.

120 seconds later, Joey rolls his eyes and announces "I'm gonna spank that monkey!"

Dear readers, I don't know if I've been able to properly capture what it is about Animals Doing Human Stuff that I find so fascinating as a subgenre of live action film, but I hope that Ed helps to spotlight it. See, Ed is an awful, awful awful piece of cinema. I say this with nary a drop of film snobbery. I have an original poster of the second made-for-TV Ewok movie hanging above my desk as I type. I harbor no elitism when it comes to entertainment aimed at younger crowds.

But see, from its first shot to awkward last one, Ed is an undefendable piece of work. Though the animatronic title character was crafted with skill (and let it not go unsaid, creepiness), just about every other aspect of this 90 minute dud seems lazily burped onscreen. And  yes, I'm including the burps, of which there are many.

See, Ed is lovable because he FARTS! And BURPS! And makes weird noises in the bathroom. And eats strawberry ice cream that he then spits through his nose and it's that much funnier that it's strawberry ice cream in the same way that it's always funnier when a chimp farts. Ed might have a good eye at the plate and golden glove on the field, but he also steals bases by pantsing the second baseman. 

Don't worry: it's all in the montage.

And if you missed the first one, there's another!

My favorite thing about Ed, however, is not Matt LeBlanc's soulless performance or the fact that Joey's Single Mom Waitress Walking Cliche Love Interest inexplicably owns a golden Madonna cone brassiere and blond ponytail wig. These things are special in their own way, but clearly, the greatest tool this movie has is its sound effects. Or rather, one slide whistle that must have been blown 182 times in this 90 minute movie to signal anytime Ed does something WACKY. 

I might have thought Chain Letter had a lot of chains, but I tell you: Ed's use of the slide whistle must have singlehandedly kept that product in business for the remainder of the 20th century.

Outside of sound effect hijinks and the occasional monkey driving a car (matched, naturally, with slide whistle sound effect hijinks), Ed has little to offer most of its audience. There's a chemistry-free romance that butts in uninvited, a randomly sad character arc for the sole likable player on the Rockets' roster, a child actor forced to be precocious, toupee humor at the expense of the wealthy villain, a barely cohesive attempt to know anything about baseball, and because why not? animal abuse when Ed, now a star attraction, gets traded and randomly tortured. Because that's how most minor league ballclub owners treat their expensive investments. Torture. Throughout it all, LeBlanc's character that isn't Joey  keeps being pushed into the spotlight when really, if you're already putting an audience through as awful a film as Ed is, you might as well AT LEAST give them more time with the baseball playing chimpanzee.

No such luck.

Lessons Learned

It’s called a ball game because it involves a ball...and is supposed to be fun

Letting a chimpanzee play baseball is equally important as letting women vote and black men be presidents

People from Oregon are into choking...when it really counts

God listens to prayers made by little girls to awaken mortally wounded chimpanzees just in time for the big game

Would You Rather...
Costar Jack Warden has weathered some bad films. You have to wonder which he was less proud of: playing the grizzled minor league team manager fighting for the rights of a chimpanzee in a little hat, or as Junior's grumpy grandpa in the awful (yet memorized by me) hit Problem Child.

Look! It's...
Future Jesus Jim Caviezel as an unlucky infielder, Parks & Rec's Jerry as an announcer, and, far more impressively to someone like me, Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead and Kindergarten Cop bit play Jayne Brook as Ed's Single Mom Waitress Walking Cliche Love Interest!

Montage Mania!
While their respective partners go out on a lukewarm date, Ed and Single Mom Waitress Walking Cliche Love Interest's daughter make an absolute mess of their humble home. Following the fartacular sequence, the pair finish cleaning up their room, scrubbing that kitchen floor, getting the garbage out of sight, and yes: all this action coincides precisely to the lyrics of the played song, Yakety Yak

As if that weren't enough, director Bill Couturie finds a way to cram in a remix of Take Me Out to the Ballgame to show off Ed's incredible fielding skills. It's a montage double!

Standard Animals Doing Human Stuff Trope Tally
New Kid In Town: Check (he’s an adult, but it’s Matt LeBlanc, so you know...)
Recent Dead or Divorced Parent: Check, just not the main character
New Friendship: Check

Potentially Inappropriate ‘Friendship’ Between Child & Unrelated Adult: If a chimpanzee counts, then check
Evil Corporate Enemy: Check
Original Song: X
Bully Comeuppance: Check
Small Town Values: Check
Back To Nature Moral: X. Ed seems far happier eating processed foods, presumably because they fuel louder, ergo more comical farts

Overall Score: 8.5/10

850? That's a decent batting average.

A-Paws Meter
Ed is exactly what you'd expect from a Razzie nominated baseball playing chimpanzee film made in the '90s. Thankfully, it's also on Netflix Instant Watch, so I have minimum guilt about giving it 94 minutes of my life. The only real downside is that only now do I realize how much funnier hijinks are when performed with the aide of a slide whistle. To think how I've squandered 30 good years without that fact...

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