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The Wrong Guys
(1988)

Director: Danny Bilson  
Cast:
Louie Anderson, Richard Belzer, Richard Lewis, John Goodman


I think that for the most part people who have been adults for quite a few years occasionally let their thoughts drift away from the present day and its responsibilities to thoughts about what life was like when they were much younger. Call it "nostalgia" or whatever name you want to call it, the majority of adults I am sure experience it. Thinking about what life was like several decades earlier, most of us probably think about a lot of the same things. For example, there is music. I am sure I am not the only one who grew up in the 1980s who thinks that the music from that era was the cream of the crop, and that most of the music being put out today simply doesn't come close in quality. Movies from the past are another fond memory of many adults. I grew up on 1980s action movies, and although I enjoy a lot of movies being made today, I am a little sad that for the most part Hollywood doesn't make 1980s-style action movies anymore. But one big nostalgic category I am sure is shared by every adult is with the people you grew up with. Family for sure, and a few important adults like teachers, but one important human memory is with the friends that you had when you were growing up. Being a kind of oddball while I was growing up, I didn't have that many friends back then. So the few friends that I had back then I think I treasure more than the average adult. The stuff I did with them fills me with many fond memories. Watching movies together... fooling around making our own programs on computers that would be considered ridiculously obsolete today... drawing our own comic books... these and other memories I am fond of frequently replaying in my mind.

You may be wondering if any of these friends that I had back then are still in my life today. As a matter of fact, a friend that I had in high school I still keep in touch with via the Internet every few weeks or so. But other than him, those few other friends I had have long disappeared. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I were to bump into one of them on the street. Chances are that the sparks that flew way back then would not ignite again. Not that long ago, I saw an old MGM musical, the 1955 Gene Kelly-starring It's Always Fair Weather. In the movie, Kelly and his two very close army friends (played by Dan Dailey and Michael Kidd) travel to New York after being discharged from wartime service. They make a pact to meet at the same tavern exactly ten years from that moment. They think their bond is so great that when they will get together again that the same friendship magic will instantly respark. Well, there are a couple of surprises for them. Not just the fact that ten years later none of them has visibly aged, but when they get together they quickly realize that each of them has changed so much in ten years that they now have nothing in common. While the movie does have a happy ending, I think that many people in real life who would reunite with a long-lost childhood friend would not have an instant reunion. Thinking about my long ago friendships, I remember that many of the interests I shared with them at the time I no longer have - and I suspect that many of them would also not have those interests. As people get older, they not only mature, but their tastes and needs change considerably. Also, there are many things about these friends I no longer remember; for some of them, I don't even remember their last names.

No doubt about it - if you were to reunite with a childhood friend, it's more than likely that there would have to be some obstacles to tackle and conquer before you and your childhood friend could consider both of you as strong as friends as you were years ago. Even The Wrong Guysthough many of these obstacles instantly come to mind the instant one starts to entertain the notion of reuniting with a childhood friend, there are still some people who all the same attempt to restart a long-ago friendship. So it should come as no surprise that Hollywood television shows and movies have mined this idea on many occasions. The reason is simple - it has a lot of drama potential. For that matter, it also has a lot of comic potential. The Wrong Guys is one example that looks at the idea in a comic light, right down to casting five stand-up comedians as the movie's protagonists. In the introduction of the movie, set twenty-five years in the past, five kids - Louie, Richard, Belz, Franklyn, and Tim - are members of the Scouts. One day, the boys decided to climb the local landmark Mount Whitehead but got lost, and they never got their Arrow Of Light badges. In the present day, the grown up Louie (Anderson, Life With Louie) still lives in the same area and still thinks fondly about his Scout days with his friends. One day, he contacts the now adult Richard (Lewis, Robin Hood: Men In Tights), Belz (Belzer, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), Franklyn (Franklyn Ajaye, Get Crazy), and Tim (Tim Thomerson, Trancers), and arranges a reunion for himself and his friends. Once everyone is gathered, Louie soon makes a proposal: All five of them will get their camping gear and they will make another attempt to conquer Mount Whitehead. Eventually Louie manages to convince all of his friends to give it a try, and soon they are on their way in the wilderness. What they don't know is that their childhood enemies, the Grunski brothers (played by Brion James and Biff Manard), secretly spot the five former Scouts, and they make plans to give the five a hard time during their trek. That's bad enough, but what even the Grunski brothers don't know is that escaped convict Duke Earle (Goodman, Roseanne) has made his way to the area with two accomplices, and plans to hide out in a cabin on Mount Whitehead.

As you can see from the above paragraph, The Wrong Guys certainly has a cast of talented people. Besides those people already mentioned, the cast also includes Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) and Timothy Van Patten (Escape From El Diablo), both of whom play the accomplaces of Goodman's character. And Johnathan Brandis (SeaQuest DSV) has a small role playing Thomerson's character as a child. However, despite their combined talents, the actors are unable to make the movie work the way it should. It really isn't their fault - the fault lies with the inadequate screenplay written by the writing team of Paul De Meo and Danny Bilson (who earlier wrote the Thomerson movie Trancers). One of their biggest mistakes was to write extremely thin characters. It's established that the now grown-up Belz is a fashion designer, Richard is a dentist, Tim is a surf bum, Franklyn is a radio therapist, and Louie is... uh... something. But aside from learning about their occupations, we learn next to nothing about them. You might think that maybe their professions would come to play during their hike at some point, but apart from a brief segment where Tim uses his surf skills to save himself in the wilderness, this does not happen. These five individuals come across as pretty interchangeable. Another big mistake comes with the Louis character. Early on, it's established that he is the one who pines for his Scout days with his friends, and it's him who gets the idea to lead his childhood friends to regain glory. But then almost as soon as that happens, his assigned leadership role is almost completely forgotten about. With no one really taking charge, the five friends pretty much bumble around in the wilderness with no direction, and without having been assigned roles, that interchangeable feeling I mentioned earlier just increases. Also, the question comes up as to why Louie Anderson is the one assigned top billing when it seems that it's every actor for himself.

But it's not just with the protagonists where the screenplay slips up. The characters of the Grunski brothers are kind of vague. It takes a long time to learn why they are hostile to the former Scouts, and the explanation we're given could have used somewhat more detail. As for the antagonist characters that Goodman, Hudson, and Van Patten play, they are even more unsatisfying than the protagonists. Hudson and Van Patten get a little dignity by playing their roles pretty much straight, but they aren't given much to do. In fact, they disappear some time before the end, and their unseen fate is explained by a quick line of dialogue that sounds suspiciously like the two actors weren't around to be filmed for their originally scripted fate. Goodman, on the other hand, sticks around a little longer, but his character is such a moron (he believes that the former Scouts are really part of an FBI squad sent out to capture him) that he comes across as annoying and pathetic. As you can imagine, this isn't the least bit funny. Which brings up another big problem the screenplay for The Wrong Guys is saddled with - the movie is desperately unfunny. It's not just that the screenplay is filled with lame and unfunny jokes; at times it also doesn't trust the audience's intelligence as well. For example, there is the name of Goodman's character "Duke Earle" - obviously a reference to the 1962 Gene Chandler song Duke of Earl. More likely than not you probably think like me that this joke isn't particularly funny. But to make sure the audience gets the joke, in the first scene with the character, the movie plays the song in the background. Get it? Get it? Yes, I get it - that the makers of this movie would rather not have come up with more clever jokes that might have delighted the audience from realizing how smart they were to understand the jokes.

Most of the other attempts at humor in the movie aren't as sledgehammered as that gag, but all the same they come across as brain dead, as if created by serious-minded people who recently stumbled upon the idea of "humor" and are still trying to understand it. There are tired gags like people being cowed by Goodman's character by him simply growling, people doing third rate John Wayne impressions, or multiple people stumbling and consequently rolling down big hills or into swamps. The only gag that worked in the movie was when one of the five men, encountering a woman's reincarnation group in the wilderness, observes how people believing in reincarnation always seem to feel they were famous people in a previous life. Though that gag was somewhat hampered by the tacky and obviously studio bound look of the construction of the set. Which leads to the third big problem of The Wrong Guys, production values that are absolutely slipshod. The movie was obviously shot on a very low budget, and it suffers greatly from a lack of funds. Several times people who are clearly not moving their mouths are dubbed over with dialogue.  A renegade squirrel in some close-up shots uses one of the worst animatronic models I've ever seen in a movie. When a car rolls into a river, we see the car roll off the screen, followed seconds later by the sound of a big splash. And the wilderness backdrop (which at times resembles that of the horror movie Rituals) constantly changes throughout instead of having one constant feeling. With the producers unable to provide sufficient funds, screenwriters who were unable to come up with humor that was genuinely funny, and with one of those two clueless screenwriters also happening to sit in the director's chair, this was clearly one movie that was made by the wrong guys.

(Posted October 7, 2015)

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See also: Leader Of The Band, Night Patrol, Stuckey's Last Stand

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