Joe Somebody (2001)

Cynthia Fuchs

It gets points for knowing what it is, a formulaic PG picture without pretensions to grandeur (and for not being 'The Majestic').

Joe Somebody

Director: John Pasquin
Cast: Tim Allen, Julie Bowen, Kelly Lynch, Greg Germann, Patrick Warburton
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: 20th Century Fox
First date: 2001
US Release Date: 2001-12-21

The intrepid Tim Allen continues to stretch his 15 minutes, this time out in yet another collabo with his Jungle 2 Jungle, The Santa Clause, and occasional Home Improvement director, John Pasquin. Again, Allen plays a pleasant milquetoast in need of a remake, hence the film's title, Joe Somebody. This, of course, means doubly: first, no one who knows Joe can remember his name, and second, he becomes a real somebody!

Perhaps thankfully, this simple plot comes with caveats. For one thing, being a real somebody these days doesn't necessarily mean what it used to, and this little detail actually makes the movie more watchable than it has any right to be. That, and my own predilection to forgive its failings for a wholly irrational reason: turns out that Jim Carrey turned down this part to do the more prestigious project, The Majestic, and, ironically, the lumpier, sillier, more self-congratulatory movie. This isn't to say that Joe Somebody is exactly good. Rather, it gets points for knowing what it is, a formulaic PG picture without pretensions to grandeur (and for not being The Majestic).

The formula begins in the first seconds of the film -- Joe goes to work in the Twin Cities, at some kind of drug-manufacturing company, where he makes promotional, intra-office videos -- and people essentially ignore him. Then you find out that his ex-wife Callie (Kelly Lynch -- and what happened to her career? I want to know) brusquely left him a while ago for a preening Actor Boy (Ken Marino) and that his 12-year-old daughter Natalie (Hayden Panetierre, the little girl who advised Denzel in Remember the Titans), adores him. She has such a good head on her shoulders that she sees through the affectations of Actor Boy and her own mom (who runs a local theater and appears on local tv spots, with crimped hair and a tight dress). Now nursing a "hole in [his] heart that hurts when the wind blows through it," Joe is feeling pretty darn sorry for himself.

And then one day, when he brings Nat to work, he has a run-in with office bully Mark (Patrick Wharburton), who bitch-slaps him in the parking lot, in front of the kid and a few astonished and completely unhelpful co-workers. Depression sets in -- Joe stops going to work, won't see Natalie, sleeps on the couch and eats cookies and cheese curls. After a few days, someone at work does notice he's missing, his weaselly boss Jeremy (Greg Germann, reprising his Ally McBeal role). Worried that his own record will be jeopardized by Joe's disappearance (and possible suit), the consummately selfish Jeremy sends the company Wellness Coordinator, Meg (Julie Bowen, who is just cute and personable as can be, especially when she's playing basketball with her Big Sister charges) to Joe's house to haul him back to his cubicle.

When Meg -- already the designated love object because they have already sort of ineptly flirted at the office, while she struggled with her banner for the "Choose Happiness" campaign -- asks Joe what he wants, he's overcome by a panic attack. Apparently, he's never posed the question to himself (funny thing, he didn't watch any Oprah while lying on that couch for days on end). And then, he figures it out: he wants a rematch.

Meg and Nat both think this is a bad idea, being sensible females. But male ego prevails, at least for a minute, and Joe heads off to the local hole-in-the-wall martial arts studio, run by a has-been B-action movie star, Chuck (Jim Belushi, apparently making fun of his own has-been-ness, or else even more clueless than he looks). "You got your ass kicked, didn't you?" queries the beer-bellied Chuck (whose studio is decorated with his movie posters, trumpeting titles like Maximum Punishment and Tom Sawyer Must Die!). When Joe protests, Chuck cajoles him: "Guys who get their asses kicked are 90% of my business!" To the tune of "Whip It," Joe then attempts to make a man of himself, even as the comic montage sequence reveals that he has a long, long way to go.

But as he has a few weeks to prepare (Mark has actually been suspended for being such a jerk), Joe starts to feel appreciated at work. Seems that everyone hates Mark and love Joe for standing up to him. The office's Sexy Girl starts flirting with Joe, and the Token Black Guy (Wolfgang Bodison) invites Joe to play squash, has him join in a karaoke rendition of the Backstreet Boys' "Larger Than Life," and teases him good-naturedly about the upcoming "Thrilla in Vanilla" (as Black Guy explains, it's two white suburban dudes getting it on...). Truly, Joe has become a somebody.

The rest of the movie winds down pretty much as you know it will, with Joe learning that violence doesn't solve problems, even those having to do with vengeance and reputation. Perhaps the most worthwhile aspect of the film -- especially assuming that kids will be seeing it with parents, more than either demographic will be seeing it alone -- is Natalie's role. She doesn't get as much screen-time as you might expect (she's in a majority of the trailer's scenes), but what's there is, as they say, choice. She may not be a particularly believable kid (but none of the adults come any closer), as she is preternaturally smart and incredibly mature, knows her own needs, and takes care of both her errant parents, along the way forgiving her mother for acting trampy, and her dad for acting retarded. And it might seem odd that the film closes not with her dad's triumph but with hers: she writes a play for her school's drama department, which includes roles for a couple of adults who can use the work. But it's cool. By the time Joe Somebody is over, Nat's looking like the only character who has somewhere to go.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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