You have to be a colossal fan of actor Chris Kattan to even remotely enjoy his new starring vehicle "Corky Romano" (IMDb listing). And I thought I was a huge fan. Besides his side-splitting work on "Saturday Night Live," Kattan has also been funny in an underrated film ("A Night At The Roxbury"), a missed opportunity ("The House On Haunted Hill") and a flat-out disaster ("Monkeybone"). With his bright white smile and his lust for physical comedy, I waited with great anticipation as the opening credits rolled for just a glimpse of the wacky free-for-all "Corky Romano" should have been. It never came. What you do get is a deeply unfunny, homophobic and completely misguided attempt to give Kattan an outlet for his crystal-meth enhanced comedy.
As the black sheep of his Mafia family, Corky Romano leads a small, simple life as an assistant veterinarian who dreams of running his own hospital. When the FBI is about to prosecute Corky's father (in a "Good lord, what are you doing in this?" performance from Peter Falk) and two brothers (Chris Penn and Peter Berg) for a multitude of crimes, the family sends Corky undercover into the FBI to retrieve the damning evidence and destroy it. When it turns out that Corky's spastic tendencies are perceived as exemplary Federal Agent work by his bureau, Corky is hailed as a model agent and falls in love with one of his peers (Vinessa Shaw) as he begins to learn that his family might not be as corrupt as he originally thought.
What Kattan saw in this material, I will never know. Filled to the brim with flatulence jokes, hits to the groin, jokes about homosexuality and illiteracy and even a set piece involving cocaine (take that 1970s!), "Corky Romano" wants so desperately for the audience to like it, that it will stop at nothing to find anything that will make the paying crowd respond. It's a film for 8 year-olds, with Kattan running around like a maniac trying to make the picture funny. But with his fanbase comprised of mostly 20-somethings who adore his work on "SNL," the tone and level of the jokes in "Corky Romano" is surprisingly juvenile. Even for Kattan, the humor in this film is the bottom of the barrel. The laughs that the film did strangle out of me only came from Kattan and his vicious energy. And they were soon chased by the poisonous script anyway, so those laugh died quickly.
It's only a matter of time before Kattan says his performance in "Corky Romano" was a tribute to such silent greats as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. It's crazy to compare Kattan to such luminaries, and there's no way this amped up performance carries the weight and timelessness of the titans of comedy. But that doesn't stop Kattan from mugging and dancing around every scene like it's 1929. He doesn't have the wisdom other comedians have, and the filmmakers don't ask much more of Kattan then to stand in front of the camera and be funny. It just isn't enough.
Directed by first time helmer Bruce Pritts, "Corky Romano" just wasn't the place to start for the new kid on the block. A total mismatch of director and material, Fitts would've been better served if he had just turned and walked off. Instead, he makes a disastrous impression with his debut feature film. A calling card for Hollywood to stay away, Pritts doesn't have the slightest clue how to direct a comedy. He suffocates the whole enterprise with endless closeups of the action, not allowing the jokes to breathe properly. He also asks supporting talent Penn and Berg to ad-lib their way through their performances. These are the last two actors on Earth you want to be thinking on their own. Since the script is useless, Pritts resorts to a very peculiar use of a special effect that enlarges the actor's eyes in a comical way. A strange choice to enhance the jokes, and he uses this more than once.
But with effects or not, Pritts has no business going behind a camera again anytime soon. I suggest a steady diet of classic comedies and even a smattering of some of his contemporaries (imagine what Ben Stiller or the Farrelly Brothers could've done with this) to get a better idea how to tell a joke, and when to say no to a bad idea.
"Corky Romano" is probably one of the bigger disappointments of the year. It's a film that had everything it needed to be at least divertingly funny, but couldn't see past its own nose.
Filmfodder Grade: D-