Every time I try to read one of Dave Barry’s columns, I come away drawing the same semi-disappointed conclusion: He clearly possesses great comedic skill, as evidenced by his occasional insightful quips or quotable barbs. However, for every gem Barry delivers, the reader must deal with at least a hundred clunky, sophomoric forays into broad, exaggeration-based humor. I’d stick around for his next hilarious aside on the human condition, but I just can’t endure another hundred uses of the word “booger” before I get there.
Based on the 1996 book, “Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys” takes a shot at bringing the longtime Miami Herald columnist’s style of humor to the big screen. Director Jeff Arch scores a few challenge points right off the bat for taking on the unenviable task of converting what’s essentially a collection of observations (that, notably, rely on visually untranslatable turns of phrase for their impact) into a feature-length motion picture with some semblance of a plot.
The movie takes the vignettes suggested by the original text and acts them out, revolving the bulk of the action around the everycouple Roger and Elaine, portrayed by Lochlyn Munro (“Freddy vs. Jason”) and Christina Moore (“Mad TV”), respectively. Barry himself narrates as our “protagonists” act out all manners of situations caused or exacerbated by the habits of the “guy,” which, the movie tells us, is like a man but more inclined to grunt, buy lots of gadgets and think about oil changes. Needless to say, a premise like that doesn’t provide much opportunity for screenplay conventions or plot development.
Among the revelations made by “Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys:” Guys enjoy sports much more than they do discussing relationships. Whereas women like to sit in the kitchen and gossip, guys prefer to sit on the couch with Playstation controllers in hand, exchanging comparatively few words. Guys will never ask for directions. Rather than call a specialist, guys will attempt – and fail – to fix the plumbing themselves. Far be it from me to act as the arbiter of popular culture, but this sort of stereotypical material was strip-mined clean by 1950s sitcoms, and it probably seemed threadbare then.
While attempts are made to spice up the selection of jokes – I admit to chuckling at a recurring pack of Visigoths – no amount of ingenious side gags could overpower the fact that comedy based upon the differences between men and women is exhausted by definition. Unfortunately, this concept is exactly what the movie is built upon, and it can’t support anything innovatively funny. If “Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys” were a house, there’d be water in the foundation.
Not that it’s a boring affair; there are enough colors, guest stars (including Dan Marino and John Cleese, who must have owed someone a favor), scene changes and running gags (though I humbly suggest that it’s about time to retire the sound effect of the off-screen cat’s yowl) to sustain the attention of even the most impatient among us. Tragically, all of this liveliness is undermined by the movie’s pervasively cheap feel. The surrounding Miami scenery looks nice and all, but the production bears an unshakable pallor of tackiness that extends even to the sticker-intensive props, as if all the money was spent simply acquiring the rights to Barry’s book.
Shot on digital video – which is why I have to keep re-using the word “movie” in this review – and cut together on what must have been a middle-of-the-line computer editing program, the end result, with its standard-issue video effects, hokey titles and cringe-inducing “Where are they now?” pre-credits sequence (another candidate for cinematic retirement), resembles, more than anything else, a PowerPoint slide show. At a reported budget of $1.5 million, it would also be likely the most expensive PowerPoint slide show ever made. Though it’s true that, in this day and age $1.5 million doesn’t buy what it used to, it can still make a better-looking movie than this.
However, when you step back and examine the combination of the simple premise, the cheesy antics, the amateur presentation and the lack of real coherence, it’s hard to wonder if the producers don’t have something here. Indeed, perhaps they do: They have the longest, priciest seventh-grade video project in recorded human history, its makers having been academically held back for the last forty years.