The Jerky Boys
1995, R, 82 min. Directed by James Melkonian. Starring Johnny Brennan, Kamal Ahmed, Alan Arkin, William Hickey, Suzanne Shepherd, Alan North, James Lorinz.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 10, 1995
The dumbing down of America has picked up steam recently, if our movies are any indication. First it was those dang Gumpisms, then we got dumb and dumber; but now, surely, we have reached the nadir, and the word describing this pit is “jerky.” Johnny and Kamal are the comedy duo called the Jerky Boys, a couple of self-described “lowlifes from Queens” who gained cult popularity on the basis of their widely circulated tapes of crank phone calls. A couple of subsequent gold records sealed their legitimacy. During these calls, the two adopt phony voices belonging to a core group of imaginary characters, dial up unsuspecting strangers, and bellow outrageously into the receiver. Their overall tone approaches something like the abrasive vocal bark of Click and Clack from NPR's Car Talk tempered with the Stone Age social sensibilities of someone like Andrew “Dice” Clay. Of course, Hollywood came calling in an L.A. minute. Need I add here that the movie's executive producers are the renowned masters of comedy Emilio Estevez and Tony Danza? On tape, the Jerky Boys respond to want ads pretending to be aggressive job seekers, bizarre nightclub acts, or demented homeowners in need of emergency demolition. There is a mean-spiritedness to their pranks that treats the recipients' polite complicity in the call as a sign of gross stupidity which makes the abuse being heaped upon them justifiable. In the film, the Jerky Boys' humor is notable for its gross bathroom humor and foul torrent of language. I'm certain that in a different, more “fleshed out,” comedic context, epithets like Jerky Boy faves “fruity ass” and “squeaky nuts” might have amusing possibilities, but these guys utter this stuff as though it's simply been too long since their mothers washed their mouths out with soap. Overgrown children are exactly what they play in the movie, who've grown from childish pranksters to shiftless adults. Some time-filling plot nonsense involving mobsters makes this 82-minute movie pass like an eternity. More to the point is that the Jerky Boys are totally devoid of physical humor or presence. Their comedy, such as it is, is based on voices and one-sided harangues. Sitting like a lump on the telephone is hardly anyone's idea of interesting filmmaking. (Even the master of telephone humor, Bob Newhart, figured out how to incorporate his shtick into a workable character context.) Talented actors like William Hickey and Alan Arkin are unable to bring any spark to this mess. Though very little money seems to have gone into creating the look of the movie, a lot must have been sunk into performers' salaries. Paul Bartel and Ozzy Osbourne make cameo appearances, and Tom Jones even performs on stage. The soundtrack features lots of hip stuff, but one of the morals of this movie is that one cool bass riff in a trailer does not a good movie make.