When Jim Breuer left Saturday Night Live a few years ago, he broiled specific beef with Chris Kattan, calling him out as a “fucking rock star” and knocking his “team player” skills. The criticism rings a little hollow, since Kattan has always been a lot better than Breuer when it comes to working off his fellow performers. But honestly, neither one of them ever struck me as particularly funny in the first place, and Breuer’s complaint does seem to fit: Kattan comes off as annoying, something about him screaming “attention freak” even louder than in most comedians, arguably the most attention-starved people alive.
Watching Kattan over the past several seasons on SNL, I’ve figured out that it’s not a rock star thing at all. Instead, he’s a glorified drama geek, a lucky variant on any kid shouting No Exit monologues at a totally unacceptable volume in a breadbox college studio. He’s always playing to the back row, throwing his body around like a jackass and mugging so hard that I’m surprised his forehead doesn’t just pop sometimes, collapsing all over his little plastic-clown face—which, with its vaguely simian-gone-J. Crew weirdo asexuality, calls to mind that other creepy NBC hambone, French “I Got a Squint Jones” Stewart. You get the feeling that if his life is anything like Mango’s, there’s a lot less affection spurned and a lot more begged for and soaked in. He seems like the kind of guy who makes his girlfriend watch tapes of his performances over and over, fast-forwarding through every Will Ferrell moment and breathlessly pointing out his own parts as they come along, which they inevitably do every 15 seconds or so.
I just hope he doesn’t subject anyone to rewatching Corky Romano, a limp, set ‘em up and knock ‘em down barrage of hijinx and horseshit that proves definitively that Kattan’s shtick is barely big enough to carry a 90-second trailer, let alone a 90-minute movie. It’s also proof positive that, unlike, say, Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler or even Martin Lawrence, his shtick isn’t big enough to transcend an awful script, home-video caliber directing and editing, and a plot so unhinged that it seems almost totally ad-libbed. Unfortunately for writers Davis Garrett and Jason Ward, it’s not: Peter Falk plays Corky’s illin’ mob-boss dad, in trouble with the man ever since right-hand dogg (Fred Ward) snitched to the feds. Besides being subjects of FBI probes themselves, Corky’s brothers are illiterate (Peter Berg, inexplicably involved in the fracas for what I hope was at least some nice bank) and latently homosexual (the classic Chris Penn, lost without a helmet or a lantern in the comic goldmine that is playing a gay mobster).
So—get this—the family’s gotta get the Corkster to ditch his idiotic Floridian existence, put veterinary science on hold, and go undercover to destroy the evidence against Pops. Here’s where the hilarity ensues, as Corky infiltrates the FBI, gets Shaft for a boss, succeeds against all odds with his zany antics, manages to fall in love with and melt the hard-bodied and hard-hearted Kate (Vinessa Shaw), and has a crisis of morality when faced with what could be the dastardly truth about Daddy’s regime. There’s also a subplot that pits Corky against this tough co-worker agent named Brick, and how they’re forced together to take down some crazy heroin cartel even though the guy’s on to Corky and suspects his clever ruse. The resolution to all this madness comes after a Michael Corleone-esque ascension to power by the Cork-Rocka; a big bad gunfight; a Scooby-Doo-style revelation about the whole heroin thing; Kate undercover as “Mexican,” in the world’s sluttiest nurse’s uniform; a wedding; and, best of all, several scenes that require the participants to actually act, with deliciously painful results. That said pain can be spread around fairly evenly amongst all the particpants is no small accomplishment.
From exposition to denouement, Corky Romano is paint-by-numbers filmmaking of the highest (or lowest) order. Even the soundtrack sucks blandly and predictably, digging up “Take On Me” by A-Ha for just-driving-with-the-top-down laughs and “Secret Agent Man” for the scene where Corky first infiltrates the Bureau. Director Rob Pritz rounds all the corners, employing wacky visual tricks intended to further exaggerate Kattan’s hyper-animated face and frame, but ending up as overkill. The team also takes the cake for worst and most gratuitous usage of CGI, maybe ever, with the digital addition of flies at the foot of the screen, meant to be buzzing above a corpse. Sweet. Even the most promising set pieces—Corky is asked to translate for Vietnamese and Taiwanese dealers on a heroin sale when he can’t speak either language, Corky goes undercover as a skinhead with a swastika-emblazoned fanny-pack to buy coke from a group of white supremacists, etc.—fall real flat real fast, deflated by the numbskull writing or simply abandoned, mid-gag.
Of course, it doesn’t help that Kattan is grossly ill-equipped to make anything at all out of this, outside of a bigger mess. He doesn’t have the presence, the chops, or the stature to pull the audience out over the movie’s potent reek and just enjoy it as a shameless piece of crap, like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective or Happy Gilmore. His performance is all nerve endings and poses, and, outside of one moment involving the accidental ingestion of a massive amount of cocaine and a subsequent speech Corky has to give to a room full of fourth graders on law enforcement (best line of the movie, easily, is Kattan frantically blurting out, “I should buy a boat!” apropos of nothing), he comes out looking like a stick figure, a long way away from anybody’s rock star. Corky Romano is the reason people can feel justified calling the overrated Zoolander a brilliant comedy and a scathing satire: compared to this garbage, it looks like Annie Hall.