1997, PG-13, 85 min. Directed by Paul Miller. Starring John Leguizamo, Jeffrey Jones, Edoardo Ballerini.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 14, 1997
Without resorting to the extreme measure of zapping a cage full of rabid stoats with a Tazer, it would be hard to top The Pest for sheer kinetic spectacle. Leguizamo, the beady-eyed hyperadrenal Latino best known for his roles in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar and the TV skit show House of Buggin’, is in full manic overdrive in this low-budget comedy designed to showcase his hip-hop slapstick moves and teeming array of characters and impressions. Our man stars as Pestario “Pest” Vargas, a nickel-and-dime Miami South Beach con artist who finds himself deep in debt to a syndicate of middle-aged, kilt-wearing Scottish gangsters (don’t ask). In a narrative setup copped from the old Cornell Wilde movie The Naked Prey, he accepts a bizarre offer by two visiting German sportsmen – you know they’re bad if they dare set foot in South Florida – to serve as human prey in a hunt staged on a remote tropical island. If he can survive 24 hours he’ll earn the $50,000 he needs to pay off the menacing Scots. From this basic premise flows a constant stream of dizzyingly lowbrow gags based on flatulence, buggery, projectile vomiting, and racial stereotypes offhandedly delivered as the zany Pest seeks to outmaneuver his Teutonic adversaries. Oddly enough, considering that much of Leguizamo’s early renown was based on international characters displayed in his well-received off-Broadway Mambo Mouth show, his ethnic and cultural impressions are, almost without exception, massively lame. People who’ve done this kind of humor well over the years, from Groucho Marx to Robin Williams, have succeeded largely because they started from a base of real understanding of who and what they were lampooning. But when your referential baseline is Hogan’s Heroes, The Three Stooges, and old Freddie Prinze routines, the results are sure to be witless, dull, and irredeemably stoopid. Even allowing for a few amusing set-pieces – notably a rap-vs.-classic-rock mobile sound system battle between Vargas and a bunch of white doofuses – there simply isn’t that much substantial humor here once you start seeing through Leguizamo’s Tasmanian Devil blur. No movie comic inane enough to make Jerry Lewis appear by contrast as a figure of George Sanders–like urbanity deserves even a second chance at cinematic life. Pass that can of Black Flag, hon.