The Slammin' Salmon

Let me kick this off by stating outright my unfamiliarity with the Broken Lizard oeuvre, which includes Super Troopers and Beerfest. For the similarly uninitiated, Broken Lizard is a comedy troupe comprised of five Colgate alumni -- Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Eric Stolhanske, Paul Soter and Steve Lemme -- who write, produce, direct and star in their own projects. Their latest film,The Slammin’ Salmon, opened theatrically last month with a minimum of fanfare in a handful of cities and finally reached Los Angeles last weekend. As only a fool would pass up the chance to see how well Heroes star Sendhil Ramamurthy’s exquisite bone structure translates to the big screen (short answer: pretty damn well, thank you very much), I went to see it yesterday at the Beverly Center. I sat by myself, the sole viewer in a theater the size of a moving van that smelled vaguely of other people’s shoes, first suffering through the world’s longest commercial for the National Guard and the trailer for some future monstrosity called Hot Tub Time Machine. My expectations were low.

Despite myself, I dug this movie. Ramamurthy’s world-class cheekbones aside, nobody really needs to see The Slammin’ Salmon in a theater -- probably the Broken Lizard gang themselves would agree that their baby is ideally suited to view at home with a gaggle of friends and liberal quantities of alcohol -- but it made for a perfectly pleasant afternoon’s entertainment. The script is credited to Broken Lizard collectively, which sounds about right; it plays like it was written (or, I suspect, largely improvised) by five easygoing guys with sharp wits and decent senses of humor, all of whom were aware not all their jokes were going to be winners, but who didn’t take this whole filmmaking lark solemnly enough to futz around with the script too much.

For purists who care about such things as plot, here goes: Temperamental, scatterbrained ex-boxer Cleon Salmon (Michael Clarke Duncan), also known as the Champ, is the namesake and owner of The Slammin’ Salmon, an upscale Miami restaurant staffed by the Broken Lizard dudes. There’s Rich (Heffernan, who also directed), the ineffectual manager, who spends most of his time fearfully catering to the whims of his erratic boss. Also on hand are bipolar Nuts (Chandrasekhar), crass Guy (Stolhanske), mercurial chef Danny and his meek twin Donnie (both played by Soter), and struggling actor Connor (Lemme). Rounding out the waitstaff are How I Met Your Mother’s Cobie Smulders as waitress-slash-med student Tara and Two and a Half Men’s April Bowlby as waitress-slash-ballerina Mia. In debt to the Yakuza and desperate for quick money, the Champ makes his staff a deal: The night’s top earner wins a huge cash prize, while the server who takes in the least gets his ribs broken. It’s Glengarry Glen Ross with fisticuffs and poo jokes!

Chaos ensues as the waiters sabotage each other while desperately flattering and conning the customers to move the highest-priced entrees and earn the biggest tips. Guy schemes to rid himself of a lone customer (SNL’s Will Forte) who spends the entire evening occupying valuable real estate -- a four-person booth -- while sipping hot water and reading “War and Peace.” Connor suffers the ignominy of having to wait on his former fellow cast members from CFI: Hotlanta, the hit television show that fired him in disgrace after only a couple of episodes. (Lance Henriksen, cadaverous as ever, has a cool cameo as the show’s creator, a Dick Wolf/Jerry Bruckheimer hybrid coyly named “Dick Lobo,” while Morgan Fairchild appears as herself as the show’s star.) New busboy Donnie gets bombed on blue curacao and waltzes around obliviously with blue-stained lips for the rest of the film. Level-headed Nuts forgets to take his medication and shifts into his gonzo alter ego, an ebullient creature named Zongo who sticks his thumb in the desserts, force-feeds the customers, and skips pantsless around the dining area.

And then there’s Sendhil Ramamurthy, Jay Chandrasekhar’s real-life cousin (which probably also explains their recent appearance together on a Chandrasekhar-directed episode of Psych), who plays Marlon, a (ludicrously beautiful) movie star who enlists Connor’s aid in planning a surprise proposal to his girlfriend (Attack of the Show’s Olivia Munn) over a romantic dinner. Marlon’s bonhomie slips away when his engagement ring gets misplaced in the worst possible way. As the evening progresses, he becomes hilariously bitchy, which is pretty awesome to watch: Ramamurthy narrows his pretty eyes to slits and flares his nostrils, spewing profanity and radiating blistering, prickly contempt. His crackerjack comic timing, which he’s never been able to flaunt much on Heroes, gets a better stage here, as in a moment where, while feigning rapt attention to his yammering fiancée while waiting for his ring to pass through Rich’s digestive tract, a drunk and exasperated Marlon shoots Connor a glare of waspish hostility and discreetly flips him off. Alone in the theater, I laughed out loud.

(Where does The Slammin’ Salmon fall in the spectrum of Ramamurthy’s filmography to date? Well, it’s a damn sight better than Blind Dating or, god help us all, Thanks to Gravity, aka Love and Debate. While it’s probably a better film than Death, Deceit and Destiny Aboard the Orient Express, my heart belongs to the latter, if only because he plays twins! Twins with different accents! One good, one evil! That sets the bar pretty high.)

It’s all pretty entertaining, though many of the gags don’t connect as well as they should -- Viveca A. Fox’s cameo as a flighty pop star named Nutella falls short, as does a running bit about Mia’s lovely face getting repeatedly scalded and singed by restaurant mishaps. And honestly, I never again need to see a scene where someone craps out an engagement ring. All the action takes place in the restaurant, much of it over a single night, which means sets are kept to a minimum: There’s the dining area and the kitchen, with occasional exciting forays into the Champ’s office or the lavatories. By the end, it starts to feel a little claustrophobic.

Somebody falls in love, somebody wins the prize money, somebody else suffers the promised beating from the Champ, all of which is fairly irrelevant. There’s no real sense of escalation or mounting stakes, no ebb and flow of action. For what this movie is, and for what it tries to accomplish, the half-assed structure works just fine. The mayhem keeps up at the same frenetic level for roughly a hundred minutes, then stops when the restaurant closes for the night, no doubt poised to resume the next day when the Slammin’ Salmon once again opens for business.

Comments

Morgan Dodge said…
Hot Tub Time Machine! Fantastic review, thank you, but for a moment I'd like to discuss Hot Tub Time Machine. The first three times I saw the two trailers out there for this I thought it was a skit. No way on earth someone had actually made this movie. And what the hell is Cusack doing in it?

I've seen Super Troopers and based upon the fun there I watched Club Dread, both on late night cable. I didn't know that they even showed these things in the theaters.
But they're fun. I mean, the inner beer bong slamming part of me. You know?

It sounds like this one will fit right in. I'll keep my eyes open for it... on late night cable.
Anna said…
As the evening progresses, he becomes hilariously bitchy, which is pretty awesome to watch: Ramamurthy narrows his pretty eyes to slits and flares his nostrils, spewing profanity and radiating blistering, prickly contempt. His crackerjack comic timing, which he’s never been able to flaunt much on Heroes, gets a better stage here, as in a moment where, while feigning rapt attention to his yammering fiancée while waiting for his ring to pass through Rich’s digestive tract, a drunk and exasperated Marlon shoots Connor a glare of waspish hostility and discreetly flips him off. Alone in the theater, I laughed out loud.

That's all I needed to hear :D Thank you. <3
Lou said…
Hurrah! So glad you got to see it and admire Mr Pretty. Spot on review as always, much better than my lazy feeble attempt a few weeks back.

Boy Morgan, I would agree to wait for cable. I stumbled across Beerfest in that manner a couple of weeks ago. I laughed quite a bit but then it was late and I'd been to the bar beforehand.

Wait Cusack is in something called Hot Tub Time Machine? Now THAT is pause for thought of the 'wtf' variety. I guess its just a slippery slope from '2012'
Morgan Richter said…
I sat through the trailer for Hot Tub Time Machine in denial, trying to convince myself the producers had been lucky enough to cast some unknown actor who happened to look a whole lot like Cusack.

I'll stick Super Troopers and Club Dread and Beerfest in my Netflix queue. I don't think Slammin' Salmon is a must-see in theaters (and apparently Los Angeles agrees with me), but it'd be a fun rental.

Sendhil needs to appear in more projects where he gets to be the hot, funny, bitchy guy. He's got a knack for it.
Dan said…
Hot Tub Time Machine!!

I will be disappointed if this is a hot tub that doubles as a time machine.

Instead, why not a time machine that, for some reason, can only transport hot tubs? It could have something to do with Brownian motion at both the macro and quantum levels and form a backdrop for a philosophical character study about the limits of science and the ingenuity of mankind as the inventors attempt to teleport hot tubs back to the past in order to save the future. Perhaps, after multiple setbacks, the inventors finally realise that, while mankind is doomed in the present (IMPORTANT ENVIRONMENTAL MESSAGE!), they can send a hot tub back to the distant past where it can function as the primordial soup from which all life begins, giving humanity another shot at co-existing with Mother Earth! A cosmic hot tub do-over!!

And to show I'm not completely high-falutin' and haven't totally missed the point of making a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine, I will heroically insist on one of the inventors having large breasts and being bikini-clad in every scene. Heck, I'll even pander to the masses and make it the female inventor.
Morgan Richter said…
I think Hot Tub Time Machine is the most instantly iconic high-concept title since Snakes on a Plane. I just typed "hot tub" into Google and its very first auto-fill suggestion was "hot tub time machine." The movement has started!

Sadly, Dan, it does appear to be a fully-functioning hot tub that doubles as a time machine. Hollywood just can't think outside the box. (It also transports our heroes, Cusack included, to 1986. Cue Miami Vice jokes and "Oh, my god, it's my mother!!" gags.
Dan said…
... the most instantly iconic high-concept title since Snakes on a Plane

Yeah, the Hollywood nay-sayers didn't want to hear my subtler pitch for that, either.

"Too reliant on High School two-dimensional co-ordinate geometry," they said.

Philistines.
Morgan Richter said…
You're too iconoclastic for your own good, Liebke. Think less about two-dimensional coordinate geometry, more about a gaggle of women in bikinis, and you'll really be on to something.
Dan said…
I'll work on it.
Morgan Dodge said…
First I'd like to reiterate that the "Slamin' Salmon" review is spot on. Thank you.

Back to Hot Tub Time Machine, yeah, John Cusack: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DCFPS58KYY

The trailer seems to suggest to me that one of them sleeps with the mother of another of them, who then feels pregnant. Which would make one of them the other ones father. (did I explain that correctly?) Time travel is indeed a sticky wicket.

Sorry Dan. I'm not sure Hollywood is ready to accept the hardcore science behind a time machine that can only transport hot tubs. Clearly this is just Hollywood ripping off old stories and putting new dressing on it. However, the next time they chose to remake Othello perhaps they should use better curtains.
Morgan Richter said…
Heh -- I see Dan is already going hog-wild with his Hot Tub Time Machine idea over at Astonishing Tales.

I feel quite certain that Hot Tub Time Machine is going to focus more on the zany possibilities of time travel, and less on the scientific ramifications. I am basing this assumption solely on the fact that the movie is called Hot Tub Time Machine.
levitatethis said…
I love this review and will add the movie to my dvd rental list. Sendhil sounds delightful (which doesn't surprise me but is always nice to hear) and I'm up for anything that shows off his comedic timing.
Morgan Richter said…
(I love Twitter. Whoever monitors the Broken Lizard account just tweeted at me to say they're happy I'm not asking for my money back. Far from it -- my seven-dollar matinee ticket was money well spent.)

Thanks, levitatethis. You'd get a kick out of it. Fun movie plus Sendhil being bitchy and funny... what's not to like?

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