From the Archives: My Review of Cabin Boy
For reasons passing understanding, my 1994 film review of Cabin Boy has come up a number of times on the Internet recently (in no small part thanks to this Cabin Boy-related podcast). I thought the review was lost to the sands of time, but it turns out I had it in my archives all along, and so I am pleased to exhume it, in the interest of future Cabin Boy scholarship. Also, it may have the greatest lede graf of any of my reviews. Enjoy.
Yearn to experience botulism, but just can’t bring yourself to open a tin of spoiled meat? Try ‘Cabin Boy’ instead. This movie gives you all the hallucinatory, nonsequential and senseless perceptions that come as a byproduct of a severe bacterial infection, without the chance that you might actually, you know, die.
I enjoyed the heck out of myself watching this film. But this is only because I have an admitted weakness for irredeemably bad films and I had adequate warning about this film, which opened in Fresno several weeks after it opened everywhere else on the planet.
Professional man-child Chris Elliott stars as Nathanial Maywhether, who starts the film wearing a powdered wig and knee pants. Nathanial is about to graduate from the Stephenwood Finishing School for Young Men (where all of the students seem to be well on their way to middle age). Nathanial is an obnoxious fop, rude and well in need of an attitude adjustment.
Nathanial’s father has booked him passage home on a luxury liner, but on the way to the ship, Nathanial takes a wrong turn. He ends up on the deck of ‘The Filthy Whore,’ a creaky fishing vessel populated by scurvy scum. ‘All we know is fishing and stinking,’ one of them tells Nathanial. ‘Mostly the latter.’
Nathanial persuades Kenny, the brain-dead cabin boy (Andy Richter, better known as Conan O’Brien’s sidekick), to plot a course for Hawaii. But then a storm comes, and he and the crew find themselves in the middle of Hell’s Bucket, a dead spot in the Pacific (but in reality an intentionally obvious soundstage).
It is here that Nathanial has most of his adventures, meeting a half-man, half-shark named Chocki (Russ Tamblyn), a 50-foot appliance salesman (Mike Starr), and a blue-skinned, six-armed woman named Calli (Ann Magnuson), who ‘cleans his pipes,’ if you know what I mean.
None of this makes any sense at all. Even the set design makes no sense; ‘The Filthy Whore’ and its crew come straight out of a ‘B’ pirate flick, yet it has a microwave on board, and the crew talks about Chocki’s problems being both fish and man from a chromosomal point of view.
It’s the work of two men, Elliott and writer/director Adam Resnick, who vented their inner demons on the screen and somehow persuaded Disney of all folks to pay for it.
Way to go, fellas. I hope you had fun. No one’s ever going to let you near a camera again.