Film Torments: Going Overboard (1989)

WELCOME to Film Torments. This will be the first in a weekly instalment of the Film section in which I – and, sadly, others – subject ourselves to cinematic bowel movements and report back, assuming we survive the trip. To kick us off on our merry please-kill-me way, we have the current Number 7 on the IMDB Bottom 100: Going Overboard.

You know, I never thought I’d feel embarrassed for Adam Sandler. 97 laughless minutes of his debut feature film later and I feel embarrassed for him. I say ‘laughless’ but, really, it failed to trigger any sort of reaction. At all. This is a comedy without the comedy. In lieu of laughs we are given self-awareness masquerading as wit, knuckle-dragging stereotypes gawping out clichés and a rather irksome sense of leering chauvinism. Sans the meta this is standard Sandler territory; incredibly, however, it’s an even more depressing affair than usual.

Going Overboard AKA Babes Ahoy (no, really) has all the comic timing of a shovel. There are no laughs, no chuckles; there’s not even enough to elicit an exasperated sigh of impatience. It’s a vacuum from which laughter is unable to escape or enter. The film follows Sandler as Shecky Moskovitz (…), a struggling comedian working on a cruise ship, as he proceeds to gurn and stutter his way to stand-up ‘glory’. Standing in his way are derisive spectators, idiot terrorists and current cruise-ship comic Dickie Diamond (Scott LaRose).

Also Billy Bob Thornton because I don't know

Also Billy Bob Thornton because I don’t know

The film seems to labour under the impression that Sandler spluttering a hundred syllables a minute constitutes an amusing sit. Woody Allen he ain’t. Throughout he addresses the camera with tame one-liners pertaining to whatever inane situation is happening to the point where I was finally unable to muster an eye-roll. Writer/director Valerie Breiman often employs lengthy uncut shots which, in a less lumbering comedy, might have lead to a few good laughs, allowing the actors to bounce off each other.

Sadly, the exchanges are so flat and lifeless, so wholly devoid of spark or brio, so fundamentally lacking in chemistry that I found myself shifting uncomfortably in my seat. It’s as if a fine grey mist descends over the frame and drags what should be witty, rapid-fire back-and-forths into plodding awkwardness. It only gets worse when ill-advised pop-culture pastiches drag themselves into frame; the Rocky-themed one-liner-battle between Sandler and LaRose is particularly pointless. I haven’t seen references and send-ups this tiresome since The Harry Hill Movie.

The actors don’t even look comfortable delivering their lines. Sandler in particular looks visibly ashamed at what he has to do, so much so that his already ill at ease character is made to seem positively neurotic. The first scene with Sandler in it sees him ostensibly apologising for what’s about to happen. This isn’t comedic; it’s unpleasant. We don’t find this endearing; we find it unpleasant. When we’re expected to root for a plucky up-and-coming comedian underdog, we don’t expect to feel flat-out pity.

Probably the most appropriate image to sum up this experience

Probably the most appropriate image to sum up this experience

But that’s what happens in Going Overboard. With a few clever edits here and there this could easily be rebranded as a psychological horror about a failed comedian terrorising a cruise-ship. Hell, put de Niro in the main role and we could have had The King of Comedy: Part II. Sandler knows a few things about horror films: He made Grown Ups, after all.

For some reason the film occasionally cuts back to a group of beauty pageant contestants who spout banalities. I only choose to mention it because I have no idea why it’s been included, other than to supplement the General Noriega subplot. This bizarre inclusion features an astonishingly apathetic Burt Young bemusing his way through lines as the Panamanian warlord(?) who sends terrorists to take over the cruise ship because an Australian beauty pageant person(??) told an interviewer on a videotape he was watching that he smelled bad(???) and… huh? Then he starts talk-singing. I don’t.

Perhaps the film feels so forced because it has the atmosphere of an extended stand-up show. This is only compounded by Sandler spewing actual stand-up routines to any poor schmuck who will listen. Much of the main conflict in the film is derived from Sandler’s clashes with LaRose; needless to say, the stand-up – even when not intentionally so – is about as humorous as trimming your nails with a sander (or indeed a Sandler).

Sandler’s interactions with the cavalcade of tired archetypes smacks of the really bad Saturday Night Live skits. We’re left in little doubt as to the primarily improvisational nature of the dialogue and we are forced to wonder how anyone allowed this to be filmed without going, “No, really, we need a script.” Presumably Sandler and LaRose were left to their own devices and told to ‘do whatever’; the results reflect very poorly on the both of them.

And then Billy Zane shows up as King Neptune. Yup. Despite provoking the single solitary laugh of this whole wretched experience, he’s not the main character. Yup.

Billy Zane failing to give a shit

Billy Zane failing to give a shit

Suffice it to say that Going Overboard is a deeply unpleasant sit. It’s a collection of skits and stand-up material Frankenstein’d together and misnomered as a movie, and it’s more than a little depressing how patently unfunny it all is. Everyone – Billy Zane excluded – looks deeply embarrassed by what they’re doing. Each pointless exchange of pointless dialogue is succeeded by another pointless exchange of pointless dialogue. This meandering pattern is followed, precisely and unerringly, for 97 pointless minutes.

It’s not as crass or juvenile or ennui-inducing as Grown Ups or Jack & Jill but it is somehow, more pointless. I can’t imagine any prospective audience feeling anything after watching it. I had to pinch myself afterwards to check I still had a pulse. The closest film I can compare it to in terms of total lifelessness is Sour Grapes, and that is grim company.

But if the film teaches us anything – anything at all – it’s that Adam Sandler does indeed possess a sense of shame; he doesn’t advertise it on his website and has expressed deep embarrassment in relation to its existence. Adam Sandler is ashamed of Going Overboard but not Jack & Jill. Let that sink in.

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