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  Jerky Boys, The Hang Ups
Year: 1995
Director: James Melkonian
Stars: John G. Brennan, Kamal Ahmed, Alan Arkin, William Hickey, Alan North, Brad Sullivan, James Lorinz, Suzanne Shepherd, Vincent Pastore, Brian Tarantina, Peter Appel, Darryl Theirse, David Pittu, Frank Senger, Tom Jones, Ozzy Osbourne, Paul Bartel
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Ever since Johnny (John G. Brennan) and Kamal (Kamal Ahmed) were kids, they liked to goof around, especially with the telephone. As kids they became demons of the prank call, phoning up people around the Queens neighbourhood of New York City and putting on weird voices to wind up their fellow citizens, often targeting their nemesis Bret Weir (James Lorinz) to get him into trouble. But now they are grown men, so how much has changed? Well, they drink a lot more beer, and... they're still living with their mothers, without jobs and amusing themselves with prank calls. However, a chance meeting with Bret, who has done quite well for himself, changes all that.

The Jerky Boys, you may or may not remember, were a comedy double act who made waves in the nineteen-nineties with their tapes and CDs, consisting of them taking part in their prank calls, most of which could be boiled down annoying people on the phone with funny voices, collecting a selection of, well, not so much catchphrases as words they would reuse, like rubberneck or sizzle chest, and references to shoes falling off. It was all very cliquey, and for much of the time that was a two-man clique of Johnny and Kamal, but they did catch on for a while until the novelty wore off for both them and their fans. This movie was a relic of those heady days, almost unreleasable.

It was begun in 1993 under Disney's Touchstone brand, oddly enough, but hit difficulties early until after a few reshoots the following year it was released in a form as brief as they could get away with for a theatrical outing in 1995, where hardly anyone went to see it because by that point The Jerky Boys' time had come and gone. Almost: Brennan at least found a regular gig voicing Mort on animated sitcom Family Guy, one of his signature voices put to lucrative use for him, though whether he was Jewish was another matter (hey, they had a white guy voicing Cleveland), while Ahmed drifted into directing indie features, presumably bitten by the movie bug on this.

Here's the problem: cheapo CDs of two wiseacres messing about is not much of a basis for a film, and this was not much of a film. They applied a plot to the jokes, or rather the repeated words, which saw the boys mixed up with the Mob when Bret gets them an interview over the phone with a gangster (Vincent Pastore, pre-The Sopranos). He tells them where to go, so they call back and pose as a mob boss and wind him up, which somehow escalates until they are pretending to be hitmen who have to execute the owner of their favourite bar (Alan North of Police Squad!). Naturally, they may be mischievous, but they aren't murderers, and the rest of the movie played out as a chase as corrupt cops became involved as well, and they packed in some celebrity cameos into the dubious bargain.

No matter how often they crowbarred in their routines, or whatever you wanted to term their nuisance calls, into the action, they never integrated successfully into what was already the most slender of narratives. Also, the spontaneity was lacking utterly: on the CDs, there were real New Yorkers on the other end of the line, being baffled, irritated or whatever, but they were offering authentic reactions and that made a difference, as ever DJ who has ever adopted the prank caller mode will tell you. But with everything scripted, the boys' material simply died in the air, falling with a leaden thud when it was so contrived as to drain all the mirth from proceedings. What you were left with was a novelty item of ephemera that would be completely bemusing to anyone who wasn't aware of The Jerky Boys, and if you did remember them, you would prefer their audio stuff. Nevertheless, it was the answer to the trivia question: "What film stars both Tom Jones and Ozzy Osbourne?" Well, Alan Arkin was more of a star here, but what an odd cast. Music by Ira Newborn.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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