[7 September 2007]
It’s hard to defend Bob Odenkirk’s Let’s Go to Prison. Coasting along on don’t-drop-the-soap clichés, the 2006 comedy is only occasionally alleviated by star Will Arnett. His striking blue-green eyes lend a delusional, slightly maniacal sparkle to his off-kilter good looks, perfect when he plays characters brimming with misplaced cockiness. Close up, those pretty peepers could just as easily belong to a frightened little girl. Frequent zooms to these eyes helped to make Prison slightly more bearable.
Odenkirk and Arnett team up again in The Brothers Solomon, but this time neither the director’s go-to move nor the comedian’s charms can save the project. Written by Saturday Night Live veteran and costar Will Forte, this dreadful movie focuses on two Dumb and Dumberer-like brothers whose father (Lee Majors) slips into a coma. John (Arnett) and Dean (Forte) were home-schooled and still live together, and though both want to settle down, their lack of early socialization has left them clueless daters. They’re not terribly picky (on a networking website, they describe their ideal woman as “female”), but their strategies keep them single.
When Dean tries to impress a date by showing her father “the ultimate respect,” he follows John’s instructions, kissing the astonished man on the lips (leaving a saliva bridge as he pulls away). John likes to hang around the supermarket and buy women groceries like normal guys buy drinks at a bar. When he picks up someone’s tab and then appears, in khaki shorts and a sport coat, seductively fingering a banana as he looks over at her, it’s kind of funny. But when he stops her from leaving the store and says, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I just bought your groceries,” it’s rather unsettling.
The brothers need to step up their efforts, however, when their dad’s doctor tells them he has a better chance of surviving if he had something to look forward to, say, a grandchild. Again, the dates go badly, much more badly than they even know (when Dean asks about one of John’s disastrous dates, he replies, “Well, it wasn’t exactly an A+. More like an A.”) Using Craigslist, they instantly find Janine (SNL‘s Kristen Wiig), willing to rent out her womb for cash. She not only doesn’t mind their bumbling, she actually comes to believe that they’re “really sweet.” At least that what she tells Tara (Malin Akerman), the hot nurse who lives next door, resistant object of John’s affection.
Janine’s boyfriend, James (Chi McBride, Arnett’s Let’s Go to Prison suitor), doesn’t see it that way. He has an “anger management” problem as it is, and isn’t too thrilled about the two goofy white dudes suddenly hanging around his girl. It’s disturbing to think that someone along the way imagined it would be hilarious to cast McBride as James, because how crazy would it be for the petite, blond Janine to have a big black boyfriend? It’s a “gag” consistent with the other ingenuity here. The script feels like potluck—a bit of Airplane!-esque wordplay, some Simpsons-like randomness, a lot of awkward pauses à la The Office. Forte is especially fond of the incredibly tired fake-out admonishment, starting out stern and ending in a compliment.
The jumble of styles would be a momentum-killer even if the jokes did work, but an overwhelming number don’t. Despite the close-ups of their beautiful eyes, the brothers aren’t even remotely endearing. Instead, their childishness suggests willful ignorance. Any longtime SNL viewer can’t be surprised when one of its players humiliates himself on the big screen. But watching Arnett, so crucial to Arrested Development‘s critical (if not commercial) success, reduced to smiling stupidly through fart gags is more uncomfortable than anything Ricky Gervais could dream up.
To be fair, the film includes a few mildly amusing moments, including a trial run they concoct to prepare for the infant’s arrival (“The baby’s lost, and you gotta find it: go!”) and their effort to get “experience” by staking out a playground (“We’re trying to coax that little girl into our car, but her mom’s being a real pain in the ass,” John tells a cop). But the movie’s mighty incompetence snuffs out potential laughs. Even the outtakes aren’t funny, which is the final proof that The Brothers Solomon isn’t exactly an A+, more like a D.