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Real Men
(1987)
 

Director: Dennis Feldman                      
Cast:
James Belushi, John Ritter, Barbara Barrie


Real Men has had a real tough time finding an audience. Even while the movie was in the post-production stage, there were bad rumors about it, centering around editing problems. The trailer then released for it (three minutes of Belushi and Ritter talking to the audience) was reportedly one of the most unattractive trailers for a movie in years. The studio then decided to throw the movie away, releasing it only to two major cities, where it grossed less than a million dollars. Upon hearing about this movie flopping not long after its release, I just shrugged my shoulders and thought sarcastically, "Wow, what a surprise." That's because I've never found Belushi or Ritter particularly funny, and I'd never figured out why they had the fame that they had. A couple of bad reviews I read about the movie seemed to confirm how bad it supposedly was. One night recently, Real Men was playing on TV, and I decided to see how bad it was; after all, it was free, and I could turn it off any time I wanted. But to my surprise (and delight), I found that Real Men wasn't a bad movie at all. In fact, it's pretty funny. The movie isn't perfect, with some glaring problems, but I found myself laughing and smiling more often than making noises of derision.

The plot is pretty simple: At the beginning of the movie, C.I.A. agent Pillbox (Ritter), arranging a trade of some kind with an unseen party, is shot and killed, to the delight of TV critics everywhere. The responsibility of the assignment falls on C.I.A. agent Nick (Belushi), a super suave and super smart agent who effortlessly completes his assignments. We're introduced to him after the opening scene, where he does things like smoothly picking up a fork from a tray in a hotel hallway and fashioning it into a lock pick while not once slowing down his casual walk. To make a long story short, Nick discovers that Pillbox was due to make an important trade with a mysterious group in a few days, and now Nick needs a double of Pillbox to help complete the trade.

Luckily, the agency has found such a person - Bob (also played by Ritter), a family man who the agency says is "Average - perhaps a little less." Actually, he's possibly the wimpiest man the whole U.S.A., a complete coward who can't stand up for himself or his family. Nick travels to see Bob to get him to volunteer for the assignment - or, rather I should say, shanghai him. When a refusing Bob tries to run away, Nick steps in front of his path several seconds later. When Bob tries to knock out Nick, Nick effortlessly whacks Bob before Bob can lay a blow. When Bob locks himself in a car and refuses to cooperate, Nick casually gets a can of gasoline, pours its contents on the car, and starts to light a match. Eventually, Bob realizes that he has no choice and reluctantly agrees to work with Nick, despite not knowing what Nick wants from him when they reach their destination - though not even super-cool Nick realizes the actual size of the danger lying ahead.

One reason why I haven't been thrilled with James Belushi is that frequently he's been cast in heavy comic roles, obviously in an attempt to emulate Belushi's brother John. I find him much better in less flashy roles, and that's why I liked his performance in Real Men. It is indeed a comic role, and he occasionally puts a funny spin on his performance, such as pronouncing "U.F.O." as "You-fo". But for the most part he actually plays his role more or less straight throughout the movie. As a result, seeing and hearing him going through all these outrageous activities with such a blasť attitude actually makes this more funny than if he was actually acting "funny". Nick frequently makes statements so absurd, so ludicrous, that when he says them blandly you realize he actually believes what he says.  Of course, with Bob being the stooge, he has the expected reaction and it's funny. Yes, John Ritter is actually funny in this movie. He's convincing as a real wimp who is totally out of his league, and will do anything that he's told to do in order to save his own skin. When the duo are pinned down in a house with the villains machine-gunning them, Nick tells Bob to stick out his finger and yell "Bang! Bang!" at the agents. This gag may sound obvious and lame in print, but it somehow works, with Ritter really putting in some enthusiasm in his actions. Together, he and Belushi make a great comic team, and its this team-up alone that makes the movie well worth watching. The direction, being slightly off center, keeps coming up with scenes either unusual by themselves, or executed in a bizarre fashion. Viewers will be both amused and intrigued by these scenes, and will find more reason to keep watching.

Eventually, though, the movie runs out of gas. The last twenty minutes or so of the movie are seriously devoid of humor, both in quantity and quality. The point where this can be pinpointed to begin is when a character's personality completely changes around. Now, in buddy movies like these, where there are opposite personalities, a change in how the characters act is not surprising -  in fact may be a requirement. But Real Men, once it gets to this point in the movie, doesn't seem to know what to do with the characters now that they've changed. The movie then travels along awkwardly for several minutes, then all of a sudden, the characters are transformed back into their original selves. Since this brief change in their personalities doesn't do a thing for the movie, one has to wonder why the filmmakers went along with this interlude in the first place. Another irrelevant interlude occurs when the duo briefly travel to Nick's parents' house. Though the scene doesn't really advance the story, it still had potential to be a wonderful scene, because of the chance of seeing if Nick's parents act oddly as well. Well, one of them does in way, and it is kind of funny, but it seems to come from another film.

Looking at the movie, I would have to say that the rumors of editing problems were true. One scene introduces a female Russian agent who has a love/hate relationship with Nick. Shortly after her introduction, she walks out the door and is never seen or mentioned again in the movie. And after that scene, the threat from the Russians also disappears. Nick does seem to kill all the Russians in the area (except for that missing agent), but it's still quite early in the movie - too early for a major threat like that to be eliminated. Other glaring clue comes from a character very early in the movie who is barely seen, then suddenly pops up in the final few minutes to play a key role in the climax. Feldman may not have been responsible for the editing, but he must take the blame for choosing poor shooting locations. Many scenes are filmed in alleyways or in run-down neighborhoods, giving the movie a cheap feeling. Also, he attempts to replicate Las Vegas, the prairie, and the Washington D.C. area on locations in southern California - with disastrous results.

I don't usually rely on production values to judge comedies, usually just relying on how long and hard I laughed. Did I laugh a lot? Yes, I did. Did I laugh hard? Not quite, but there were certainly a lot of good-sized laughs in the movie. So despite the poor technical side, and a pretty dead last fifth of the movie, it's a really pleasant movie to sit through. Who'd ever think that James Belushi and John Ritter could be funny? Maybe there's hope for Pauly Shore after all.

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See also: The In-Laws, King Frat, Watch Out, We're Mad

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