Monday, January 13, 2014

Kurt Russell Floats the Boat

In this post I'd like to discuss two films on Netflix that star Kurt Russell and have a wacky plot that somehow involves a boat. The first is the Gary Marshall-directed 1987 rom-com Overboard co-starring Goldie Hawn, and the other is 1992's sea romp Captain Ron, which co-stars Martin Short.

Both films are mindless fun but if you're in a position where you are forced to choose between two sea-faring comedies starring Kurt Russell, I'm going to suggest Overboard, and here's why:

Falling For It

It's hard to believe this movie was Russell's follow up to the action-packed John Carpenter classic Big Trouble in Little China. After playing rough-and-ready truck driver Jack Burton and being a few years removed from his badass Snake Plissken character in Escape From New York, Russell goes to considerable lengths with Overboard to soften the edges to his tough guy screen persona.

He teams up with his real-life partner Goldie Hawn and gives himself over to director Gary Marshall, who might just be the greatest romantic comedy director of all time. He's responsible for tearjerker favourites Pretty Woman, Beaches and Runaway Bride among others. Not to sound derisive but he has the chick-flick formulas down to a science.

In Overboard, however, Marshall's not too concerned with plot because there are enough holes here to sink this story to the bottom of the cinema sea. Hawn plays an intolerable ice queen who hires Russell, a fun-loving blue-collar carpenter named Dean Proffitt, to build her a new shoe closet on her yacht. As he works, Hawn belittles him while flaunting her wares (ie. flashing her thong) and their early scenes together are a strange mix of anger and eroticism.

Hawn slips overboard in the middle of the night and is picked up by a garbage scow. The only problem: she has amnesia and can remember nothing more than how to be cruel and insulting as she berates doctors, policemen and the local news anchor who tries to interview the "mystery woman."

Russell, a father of four unruly boys with no mother, hatches a scheme to bring Hawn home, convince her she's his wife and essentially make her his domestic slave. Sure, she screwed him over for his unpaid carpentry work, but this plan raises a multitude of ethical questions involving kidnapping, forced servitude and captivity. But this is a 80s movie where the opening credits are backdropped by some funky slap bass music, so you can't take it too seriously.  

Like I said, the plot is weak but star power keeps it afloat. The two leads have palpable chemistry together and Hawn plays the exasperated fish out of water part to perfection the same way she did in Private Benjamin. Russell, despite his questionable decision to trick Hawn and make her a surrogate mother, is likeable as a small town striver trying to raise his kids and make ends meet. You'll be surprised near the end when you're cheering for Russell to realize his dream of building a mini golf course. Ambitions were certainly more modest in 80s movies.    

Captain Bomb

There's plenty wrong with Captain Ron and it's no wonder it fizzled at the box-office. But you can't pin it on Kurt Russell and his titular character. Russell, years before Johnny Depp essentially became his Captain Jack Sparrow persona, is wonderful as a shady Caribbean captain who speaks with a rum-soaked voice and sports an eye patch.

He's basically doing a comedic riff on his Snake Plissken character and having fun with the lightweight nature of the film. He's got all the movies' best lines and it's obvious he's not taking the part too seriously. If it wasn't for Russell's presence this movie would be unwatchable.

It's weird to even write this but here's a case where Martin Short just isn't funny. Short is playing the straight man to Russell's absent-minded stewardship, but it doesn't work. Short - the man who invented this character - should NEVER be the straight man. It doesn't suit him.

Director Thom Eberhardt is not without blame, especially for his unfortunate decision to make child actor Benjamin Salisbury, playing Short's son, ape all of Macaulay Culkin's scared face moves from Home Alone - a monster hit only two years earlier.

Wikipedia describes Captain Ron as having a "cult following" and that in 2007 fans of the film gathered for the first annual "Ron Con" to celebrate the film's 15th anniversary. Yet something tells me this is not going to take on Big Lebowski status anytime soon.

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