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‘Cabin Boy’

By David Mills
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 08, 1994


Adam Resnick
Chris Elliott;
Ritch Brinkley;
Brian Doyle-Murray;
James Gammon;
Brion James;
Melora Walters;
Andy Richter
salty sea talk, aaarrgh

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Chris Elliott, long familiar for his array of running characters on "Late Night With David Letterman" ("The Panicky Guy," "The Guy Under the Seats"), has one of the most distinctive and bizarre comic sensibilities in show business, and he's not always bearable. The prospect of a feature film built upon his goofball vision isn't altogether enticing. One's hesitancy might be affirmed by the fact that Touchstone Pictures chose not to screen the movie for critics.

But "Cabin Boy," which opened here yesterday, contains about enough laugh-out-loud sight gags and non sequiturs to justify what it demands of a viewer's time and money.

Done in the manner of a fantastical sea adventure -- with the darkly stylized art direction and animation indicative of co-producer Tim Burton -- "Cabin Boy" presents Elliott as an overwhelmingly obnoxious finishing school "fancy lad" who, through a confluence of accident and stupidity, winds up on a fishing boat (the "Filthy Whore") with four grizzled, stinking fishermen.

Elliott, more so than the average person, seems to find unpleasant behavior inherently funny. The early part of the film, filled with Elliott's effete insults, simpering and whining, doesn't establish an endearing mood. But as the tale unfolds, and the seamen encounter such wondrous sights as a half-man/half-shark (Russ Tamblyn) and an ice monster, Elliott and his writing partner and director, Adam Resnick, hit their stride with simple and surprisingly effective comic ideas. Such as Elliott being forced to swab the deck with his tongue. Or Elliott being forced to dance to "Alley Cat" while the amused fishermen throw empty beer cans at his head. The greatest sight gag, involving a lovely and spunky long-distance swimmer (Melora Walters) they've picked up, I shan't divulge. But I am laughing right now as I recall it.

A romance of sorts develops between Elliott and this swimmer. In the crow's-nest of the ship on a starry night, she bares her soul to him. He then snaps out of a reverie and tells her, "Sorry. I was just thinking how fun it is to roast pumpkin seeds."

"Cabin Boy" is even more fun than that.

"Cabin Boy" is rated PG-13 for salty sea talk, aaarrgh.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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