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Odd Jobs
(1986)

Director: Mark Story  
Cast:
Paul Reiser, Robert Townsend, Scott McGinnis


Over the years, I have certainly learned a lot of things. With this web site, for example, I have learned that there is a substantial audience out there who are interested in movies that are offbeat in one aspect or another. And I've also learned that some of those people expect me to drop everything I'm doing and research on their behalf (and without compensation) something to do with an unknown movie. This as well as other observations in my life have lead me to a conclusion that I think everyone would agree with. And that is that everybody wants something. For example, I want a large readership for my web site. That thought probably doesn't go through the heads of most people, but there are certain things I think virtually all people want to assure that they have. One desire most people have is for people in their lives, friends and family, in order to get a sense of acceptance and belonging. But there are other desires as well. Food, for instance, as well as a home of their own. But for people to get those two things, most likely they have the desire to have some kind of employment so that they can earn the money to get food and a place of their own. Those are the main reason why most people happen to have some kind of employment to head to day after day. But I think many people desire the right kind of employment for reasons other than a way to get food and shelter. I think many people enjoy having a job because it gives them some kind of discipline and order in their lives. Another reason is the same reason why people desire friends and family in their lives, to know that they belong to something and are valued. To have that in your life is a big boost to your ego.

Over the years, I have worked in a number of jobs before settling into the job that I currently work at. I've been a lawn mower, a worker at a fast food restaurant, someone who stuffed flyers into local newspapers, an assistant at a learning disabilities organization, an English teacher in South Korea, a freelance writer for a British publication, a technical writer slash research assistant, an administrative assistant at a government ministry, a clerk at a used book store, as well as a clerk at a charity thrift shop. As you can see, I certainly have had a wide range of employment experiences. Some of them were not pleasant jobs, but in a way I'm glad I had those unpleasant employment experiences because compared to them, the job where I am now comes across as one of the best that I've ever had. While I am happy at the job I am at now, at the same time there are occasions in the back of my mind where there is a kind of regret. Sometimes I wish that I was my own boss, where I could do exactly the kind of work that I wanted to do, and not be worried about getting chewed out by a superior. Often I think that being in such a position would give me a great sense of accomplishment. But when I think about it for a long enough period, potential problems come up in my mind. For the most part I am a follower and not a leader - I have a big problem picturing myself in firm control over people who would be working under me. Also, if I made a decision that later turned out to be a bad one, I would only have myself to blame - I couldn't lay the blame on a boss who told me what to do, because I would be the boss. And there are so many complex decisions to be made when you are the boss. I think I would in short order be totally stressed out if I constantly had to made big decisions.

So after thinking about it a little, I am glad that I am not my own boss, and I realize that my job is a good one for a person with my frame of mind. At the same time, however, I do get enjoyment from the idea of someone quitting being a follower and starting their own business and being Odd Jobstheir own boss. Sometimes I get this pleasurable idea in my mind by watching various motion pictures. There have certainly been a lot of movies concerning people who start their own business, and it's interesting to observe that so many of them have been comedies. The most plausible reason is that so much about running a business is humdrum stuff that a serious movie on the subject would be boring. When I came across Odd Jobs, I had no problem seeing another comic take on people running their own business. I was only concerned with whether it would be funny or not. The movie concerns five college students who belong to the same fraternity. Classes have stopped for the summer, so they go out looking for summer jobs. Byron (Paul Provenza, Survival Quest) and Dwight (Townsend, Hollywood Shuffle) get hired to work as caddies at a golf course; Roy (Rick Overton, Blind Fury) lands a job selling vacuum cleaners; Woody (McGinnis, 3:15) becomes a waiter and Max (Reiser, Mad About You) is hired by the Cabrezi Brothers' moving company. As it turns out, none of these jobs work out for the five young men for various reasons. Eventually, Max comes up with an idea: Why not start their own business? With Max having learned all about the moving business from his job, the five men decide to start their own moving business. But it doesn't take long for the five men to discover that there will be a lot of challenges ahead, with them having to set up the business, finding customers who will hire their services, and serving the customers properly. They also soon find out that Max's previous employers are not exactly happy about having some competition, and are willing to do anything to put this new business out of business.

There is nothing really wrong with the plot premise of Odd Jobs. With a cast that includes a number of characters in both the protagonist and antagonist categories, the movie had the opportunity to include a number of colorful and funny characters on display. Also, while I can't immediately think of any other comedies involving the moving industry, the basic plot all the same comes off as one that could very well deliver a lot of laughs. Unfortunately, Odd Jobs manages to fail in pretty much every aspect of the execution you can think of. I'll start by examining how the basic story unfolds. The movie makes its first misstep in the first few seconds of the opening credits. As the credits unfold, we hear a magazine reporter interviewing the main characters about their successful business, and wanting to learn about how they did it. The remainder of the movie is a flashback to how they achieved that success. Because of this narration both here and sporadically throughout the movie, we know right from the start that the men are going to succeed. As a result, there's no suspense and no surprise despite the many setbacks the men have along the way. It's hard to get involved with their struggles if we know for certain that they will eventually become winners. But that's not the only problem with how the basic story unfolds. Another problem is how long it takes for Max to come up with the idea of the gang starting and running their own business. It takes much longer than you might think for the idea to come up. In fact, it takes a little over half of the movie before Max gets the idea for the business. By then I think many viewers will have grown impatient about how much time the movie wastes by devoting time to the characters' unpleasant summer jobs, footage that doesn't affect the main plot in the slightest. All this unnecessary footage also results in that key scenes - like how Max gets a moving truck and an office for his business, business cards printed up, and uniforms for his friends - never make an appearance.

There is also a go-nowhere subplot about Max's girlfriend spending time with her new boyfriend "Spud" (played by Richard Dean Anderson of MacGyver) - a subplot that is eventually resolved in not only one of the lamest and quickest subplot resolutions I have ever seen in a movie, but also doesn't affect in the least bit the remainder of the movie that has yet to unfold. There seems to be no reason for "Spud" to be in this movie except to extend the script to running feature length. But it wasn't just the character of "Spud" that I had a problem with in Odd Jobs. In fact, I had a problem with just about any character of significance in the movie. And that includes the five fraternity friends who eventually decide to start their own moving business. The character of Max does show some leadership traits, making some important decisions for the group here and there - but that's pretty much all that's done with these five characters. For the majority of the movie, these five young men think and act completely alike. There's nothing done to differentiate themselves from each other, in a comic sense or otherwise. Even worse are the depictions of the movie's villains. The ringleader, Manny Cabrezi (who, by the way, seems to be the only Cabrezi in the movie despite his business' name proclaiming more than one Cabrezi) barely gets any screen time, so he never feels like any kind of threat. The goons that work under him are a bunch of extremely simple minded cretins, a kind you have seen in countless other movies before. With these barely sketched-out characters, it's no wonder that most of the cast can't do anything with them despite their talents. The only actor who manages to scrape something together is Leo Burmester (The Abyss) as a freelance trucker who first works for the Cabrezi company but later for the heroes. Burmester puts a lot of energy into his performance, enough that there is some life visible in his scenes despite his character being written as a crude and predictable caricature.

While the basic story as well as the central characters were, to put it mildly, inadequately written, there was still the chance that Odd Jobs could have been salvaged by a constant barrage of funny gags. But except for one brief sequence (more on that later), I simply didn't find this movie the least bit funny. The gags in the movie are not simply unfunny, they are unfunny in ways that will make you seriously question the screenwriters' sense of humor. There are several gags in the movie that border on bad taste, like when the Caucasian Byron, staying at the home of African-American Dwight's parents, feels he has to act "black". So Byron proceeds to make an ass out of himself by shucking and jiving in front of Dwight's family outrageously. Later in the movie, in order to drum up customers who want to move, Dwight and his African-American friends drive to a W.A.S.P. neighborhood and horrify the residents by breakdancing and playing loud music while declaring out loud they are moving in. Gags such as those had me sinking down in my seat. Then there are gags that simply don't make any sense, like when the five men (in another attempt to drum up business) drive a tanker labelled "TOXIC WASTE" into another neighborhood. How did they get a tanker? How did they professionally label it "Toxic Waste"? Why don't the residents of the neighborhood call the authorities? While most of the remaining humor in the movie isn't as offensive or badly thought out as those examples, it manages all the same to be so extremely lame that I can't imagine any kind of audience finding it funny. The one gag I did find somewhat amusing was a scene when Max, moving a piece of furniture out of a house, gets it stuck in a stairwell. I know that may not sound funny, but it made me smile because it reminded me of a few weeks ago when I was helping a friend moving to a new home and the problems he had when he and another person got a piece of furniture stuck in a stairwell. As you can see, I had to bring something from another source to find something funny in Odd Jobs, because on its own there is simply nothing there.

(Posted March 1, 2015)

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See also: Door To Door, Fire Sale, Zoo Radio

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