Monday, March 12, 2012

POOLBOY: DROWNING OUT THE FURY (2011) - action spoof movie cocaine for your eyeballs and your earholes and your groinspot

Sal Bando (Kevin Sorbo) is a true American hero who believes in apple pie and baseball heroes and Betsy Ross and maintaining a nice lawn. He served his country through 48 tours of Vietnam, and returns home to the greater Los Angeles area to finally reunite with his loving family. He wants to start anew as a pool cleaner, just as he had promised a fellow soldier and fellow aspiring pool cleaner right before he was blown to smithereens. However, his homeland no longer resembles the one he left behind to go to war. The streets of Van Nuys have turned mean, overrun by Mexicans and crime and stock footage, in that order. Not only that, but pool cleaning has become the domain of the illegal immigrant, taking jobs away from hard working white folks who pay their taxes and put their faith in Jesus.

Even so, family is the most important thing. He knocks on the door to his own home after 12 years in the shit, only to find that his wife (Alanna Ubach) now has a relationship with some Mexican (Bryan Callen), who is also the defacto father to his son (some kid). To add insult to injury, he’s also her poolboy. Not only can he no longer live in his own house and sleep with his own wife and play catch with his own son, but he can’t even clean his own pool. In retaliation, he steals the Mexican’s pool cleaning van (which of course advertises that they keep pools “spic n’ span”). Unfortunately, this sets off a war between the Mexicans (headed by Danny Trejo) and Bando, and Bando quickly finds his wife and son dead, their bodies floating in the pool, of course. This is the last straw for Mr. Bando. He was already too old for this shit, but now he’s been pushed over the edge…and everyone in his way is under the gun. It’s time to take out the trash…and his fists double as compactors. He came to mow the lawn and chew bubblegum, but your ass is grass and he forgot to bring bubblegum. You get the idea.

If this sounds silly and racially insensitive, it’s because it totally totally is…like totally. However, the racial insensitivity is explained away by the fact that Poolboy is a “movie-within-a-movie” spoof of the 80’s action genre, and Bando’s racially insensitive heroic quest, a ludicrous furthering of Reagan-era entertainment that took itself completely seriously, is being poked fun at. However, it’s not merely enough to make fun of low budget action movies by pointing to racial stereotyping or technical shortcomings or latent homosexuality. That’s frankly shooting fish in a barrel. However, Poolboy: Drowning Out the Fury goes further than that. There’s the unintentionally campy action movie (Cobra) and the intentionally campy action movie (Action Jackson), and then there’s the spoof of the campy action movie (maybe something like National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1), and then there’s Poolboy, which is like a postmodern comedic reconfiguration of the spoof of the campy action movie. If you couldn’t follow that train of logic, don’t worry; I couldn’t either.

It might be easy to pithily describe Poolboy as “Black Dynamite for lame honkeys who grew up freebasing Pixie Stix while watching Lorenzo Llamas kickboxing movies on premium cable” and call it a day, but I don’t think that truly and accurately describes what is going on here. It’s closer to something like Tim and Eric Awesome show, Great Job!, which could ostensibly be called a parody of public access television and infomercials and other forgotten artifacts of filmed media, but Tim and Eric seem more interested in constructing their own weird comedic aesthetic based on forgotten video clips. Poolboy kinda does that but instead uses shitty direct-to-video action movies of the late 80’s and early 90’s. For the record, “shitty” in this context is a compliment.

Let’s take one scene as an example. A gang of Mexicans confront our hero at his home to take him out, and Bando, armed with a pool cleaning net outfitted with razor sharp blades, goes to work. He hacks their limbs off in a series of one-on-one confrontations, including severing the hands of the guitar playing Mexican and quipping “sorry about that…you were my favorite, hands down”. The guitar player retorts “was that line really necessary? I was in Menudo!” Bando responds with “I HATE Menudo!” before decapitating him. He then impales the Mexican that boinked his wife and his body falls into the pool. “Now THAT’S what I call a wetback!” he exclaims, and he walks away in slo-mo, lighting a cigarette while some crucial hard rock blares. He then tosses the cigarette at the boom mic operator, who catches fire and runs into the frame in order to jump into the pool and douse the flames. Now, a normal “bad filmmaking” spoof would have the boom mic operator creep into the edge of the frame to point out how a low budget action movie might not bother to do a retake even though you can see the boom guy in the corner of the frame. However, Poolboy just incorporates it into the movie. So, you can see the boom guy? Good. Set him on fire; that’ll be awesome. So you see, a regular spoof might point and laugh at these so-called “bad movie gaffes”, but Poolboy just uses it as another bit of comedic weirdness, sanity be damned.

The fourth wall breakage is not limited to technical gaffes and intentionally ridiculous stock footage, but is present in virtually every shot and in every conceivable permutation. Like I was saying, the movie is apparently a mockumentary about the making of Poolboy: Drowning Out the Fury, starring director St. James St. James (Ross Patterson, who wrote the real movie), who at the original time of filming was a 10-year-old coke fiend who got the gig because his dad owned the studio. St. James chronicles the shooting of the movie while also premiering it (via VHS), as it sat unreleased for 20 years, and it was also a sequel to a movie that was never released because it was destroyed soon after completion. Not only were there certain scenes where Bando was played by a different actor (Jason Mewes) added at the original time of filming because of star Jan Van Hammer (also Sorbo) being accidentally killed during filming (although he actually wasn’t), but St. James also plays the Poolboy in modern day reshoots in order to appease the studio with gratuitous nude scenes and product placement in order to finally get the movie released. St. James also shows deleted scenes as part of the documentary, including inexplicable male nudity (for the ladies). Oh, and the documentary is somehow tied to a Russian conspiracy that was tied to the plot of “Poolboy” (the movie-within-a-movie). If all of this sounds confusing (and let’s hope it does), keep in mind that it doesn’t really matter if you can follow the “reality” of the film or not. These different reality threads are there so they can collide into each other with hyperactive screwball gusto. Also, when you have a framework that is constantly disregarding its own reality, it makes it impossible to predict so much as the next frame. Poolboy: Drowning Out the Fury doesn’t just break the fourth wall; it firebombs it and snorts the ashes off of a hooker’s ass. Or, if you prefer…”Brechtian”.

The mighty Kevin Sorbo (Jan Van Hammer/Sal Bando/maybe himself at times) holds it together, playing the sorta-straight action hero shtick to perfection while also nailing the intentional comedic bits (his maniacal laughter during the Deer Hunter parody made me laugh harder than anything, although I’m not sure why). He is the rock at the center of a neverending parade of action schlock and comedic weirdness, and everyone else pretty much nails things from a comedic timing standpoint (like the always funny Alanna Ubach). Then there’s the straight killing soundtrack featuring Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days” during a rad montage, as well as “I Can’t Wait” by Nu Shooz and a fantastic AOR hard rock original over the opening credits that might be called “I Want to Suck a Donkey’s Cock”.

To describe the movie further is to simply make a list of outlandish horseshit that warms the cockles of my coal black heart. There’s the ubiquitous action cliché of a bottle of J&B being inserted as product placement (this time drunk through a snorkel, no less). There’s also the Poolboy’s dead son playing catch with Hitler in heaven. Then there’s the inside information that Van Hammer was a volatile actor that would “occasionally punch his female co-stars in the tits”, and also the part where a victim pleads for his life by saying “I don’t want to die as stock footage homie!”. Oh yeah, there's also a clown that keeps accidentally advertising that he rapes children. Well, the clown stuff is more creepy than heartwarming, but why not throw some creepiness in there too. Let’s please everybody.

It might sound like the filmmakers are just throwing shit against the wall to see what sticks, hoping that enough punchlines hit, but I would argue that so much shit is thrown against the wall, with a complete disregard for the mechanical comedy of a conventional spoof, that the aesthetic becomes one where part of the humor is that you’re watching someone throwing as much shit against the wall as they possibly can. Perhaps that’s too fine a distinction to bother making, but I’m the kinda guy that goes that extra mile. You’re welcome.

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