From the Archives: My Review of Cabin Boy

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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.

Cabin Boy

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.

–JS

33 Comments on “From the Archives: My Review of Cabin Boy”

  1. Incidentally, the final line is correct: Adam Resnick never directed another film.

    (He’s done perfectly well as a screenwriter, however.)

  2. Chris Elliot has made quite a career of making viewers feel anywhere from mildly uncomfortable to cringing and averting their eyes. And I say that as someone who appreciates his work. He’s great in Schitt’s Creek.

  3. What can I say? I like evidence.

    I remember when the movie launched, and the reaction was basically DEAR GOD MY EYES. Because of that, I’ve always been curious to see it but never did, because I stopped watching movies (bad marriage long story). But now that I watch more TV, I might try watching it.

  4. I was just about to ask how many of them still had film careers on some level. I expect the answer will be “most to all of them.”

  5. So was it “Terror of Tinytown”, “Glen or Glenda”, “Showgirls”, “That’s my Boy”, “Movie 43″ bad–something that even MST3K can’t save? Or is it more like “Reefer Madness”, “Waterworld” or “The Postman” which are great for a dreary February afternoon, when the wintry mix of sleet/snow/rain/freezing rain is tapping against the windows and you don’t want to watch anything you have to think about, something along the lines of watching yet another “Law and Order” marathon?

  6. @SSteve – Roland Schitt (like rolled in shit). Beautiful. My wife and I binged all 6 seasons of this show for a couple of weeks and it was, how to say it, entertaining at first then dismally painful.

    @FL Transplant – I love those two Costner films. We always referred to The Postman as Dirt World. And the most poorly uttered line in cinematic history is the scene in Waterworld in which Mariner (Costner) and Helen (Jeanne Teipplehorn) resurface after their tour of the underwater world only to find his supercool boat destroyed by the “Smokers” and he says, “My boat” with all the emotion of someone who just ate a shit sandwich. Still, great movies.

  7. Never saw it and now, between the trailer and your trenchant review, I’ll never have to.

    Thank you for that.

    (BTW–why did they choose that exciting music–Mendelssohn 4th Symphony–for the trailer? Because it’s in the public domain, i.e., free.)

  8. A buddy and I caught this at our local multiplex a week or so after it opened – no idea why it was still playing. We were the only two people in the theater, and every memory I have lines up with this review perfectly.

    The movie is not good, or bad. It’s just baffling, and that it exists is evidence for the essentially random nature of existence.

  9. For reasons that are surely beyond me, this film was popular with Navy personnel.

    You haven’t lived until you listen to a couple vets cheerfully calling out their favorite lines.

  10. Okay, that is an excellent, writerly first sentence.
    My main reaction is, I can’t believe I was 13 when that movie came out because I remember watching it on cable in bits while pretending to do homework. Like, multiple times through. Was this really the only thing to watch when there were not 8 different sub-channels of HBO, (forget streaming)? I can’t remember! I am sort of disappointed in teenage-me for choosing to watch this terrible movie repeatedly in small parts instead of reading my American Pageant history book like a normal person.
    Belated congrats on publishing this review! :)

  11. timeliebe – Central NY – Dreaded Spouse-Creature to bestselling fantasy author Tamora Pierce (SONG OF THE LIONESS, THE CIRCLE OPENS, BEKA COOPER: A TORTALL LEGEND series), a co-author of TORTALL: A SPY'S GUIDE, Co-author with Tamora Pierce of Marvel's WHITE TIGER: A HERO'S OBSESSION for Marvel Comics. Contributing Editor for VIDEO Magazine during the 1990s, Columnist for C/Net 1999 - 2002.
    timeliebe

    Jeff Baker, I’ll see your A NIGHT IN HEAVEN… and raise you BOLERO (https://youtu.be/X8LvBTtv9YI ).

    If you make it out the other end with your sanity intact? I’ll wonder what was wrong w/you to BEGIN with! This movie is so mindroastingly awful it almost becomes hilarious in spots — like when Mac’s (Derek’s character name) best friend Catalina (who has a THICK Spanish accent) is flirting with Mac’s attorney Robert Stewart! A Scotsman so Scottish he wears a kilt everywhere! And has a Scots Burr just as thick as Catalina’s Spanish accent! They’re getting all hot and bothered, and WE are all going “Wait? What did she say? Huh – he said what to her…?”

    Transcendently stultifying, and about as erotic as a root canal.

  12. I’ll see you both and call with “Pennies From Heaven”.

    To this day I can not stand the sight of Steve Martin.

  13. With dishonorable mention to “AI”. Combining Spielberg’s tendency to schmaltz with Kubrick’s tendency to get lost in f/x, worst of both worlds.

    At least Osmont redeems himself in “Second Hand Lions”.

  14. I have found Elliott’s continuing career inexplicable from the beginning. Let’s not forget THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY.

    And his father Bob was so good.

  15. I remember it being a bit of absurd fun, kind of an extension of some of the stuff Chris Elliott used to do on Letterman, like The Fugitive Guy or The Man Under the Stairs, but with full-blown sets and props and effects.

    And the crew of the ship was made up of a bunch of great character actors who were fun to watch and listen to.

    It’s a good late night cable movie, not far removed from ridiculous stuff like Aqua Teen Hunger Force or Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Again, as far as I can remember.

  16. I have enjoyed much of Chris Elliott’s fine body of work, I think his comedic skills and sophisticated style of humor was best show cased in the sitcom Get A Life. Comedic gold I tell ya

  17. I have not seen the film, but Chris Elliott was pretty funny back in the day on Letterman, and his role in Groundhog Day was good as well. I’ll give him at least the benefit of the doubt.

  18. I don’t know what movie the rest of you saw, but I consider Cabin Boy to be the Citizen Kane of films in which David Letterman tries to sell someone a stuffed monkey.

  19. Rented this on VCR one night and we shut it down about 1/2 hour or so in. It remains the one and only movie that my wife and I have ever done that to; after reading your review of it, I am so so so happy we did that.

  20. Watching the trailer, I think I’d actually enjoy this movie a lot now. If I watched it when it came out in the 90s, I’d think it was irredeemably stupid. Now I’m a fan of pretty much anything that leans into bad taste and nonsense — bad sense. Your review actually supports that — the microwave oven sounds like it’s by design, not an oversight.

    What’s weird is that I’ve never even heard of this movie, at all. Usually stuff like this was either infamously reviled and thus seen by everybody, or a regular fixture in video rental stores where you just got really used to seeing the cover until one day you were like, “Hey you know what….” and ended up groaning through it with friends or family less than ecstatic at your choice. Example of the former: Bio-Dome. Example of the latter: Theodore Rex.

    To be perfectly honest I’m sad that these movies aren’t really made anymore. There was a strange aesthetic anarchy to 90s comedies that got replaced by the sense that comedy was supposed to be specifically referential to familiar experiences.

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