Exploiting Our Archives: Rando! The Jerky Boys: The Movie
Since The Jerky Boys: The Movie is the first entry in Rando!, a column devoted to morbidly fascinating randomness, it seems appropriate that I came to see it in a completely rando way. A few months back a Twitter friend emailed me to ask if I wanted to be on his podcast about Disney movies. I immediately scooped up The Jerky Boy: The Movie (a Touchstone production) so that I'd finally have an excuse to force myself to watch it.
The episode was supposed to run April 1st, so perhaps it’s appropriate that the assignment to watch The Jerky Boys: The Movie ended up being an accidental April Fool’s Day prank. When I direct-messaged the gentleman whose podcast I’d seen The Jerky Boys: The Movie for he immediately messaged back to say that his cohost couldn’t see the movie, so they couldn’t cover it on the show, yet neglected to share this information with me before I subjected myself to The Jerky Boys: The Movie.
As someone who has made terrible, tacky things the cornerstone of his career, you’d imagine that I would have gotten onboard the Jerky Boys train early. Yet for some reasons the Jerky Boys never particularly appealed to me.
Prank phone calls were never my bag but because The Jerky Boys were so briefly ubiquitous, I ended up getting exposed to them second-hand all the same. The Jerky Boys’ “potty mouth Don Rickles with a telephone” shtick always struck me as one-note. But when I worked at Blockbuster as a teenager I was fascinated by a promotional clip for The Jerky Boys: The Movie where comedy legend, future Academy Award winner and Jerky Boys: The Movie cast-member Alan Arkin discoursed at length about what comic geniuses the Jerky Boys were and how honored he was to help them make the leap from entertaining the dumbest kids in ninth grade via an exclusively audio format to becoming full-on movie stars.
Nothing in The Jerky Boys: The Movie amuses me a tenth as much as the image of Arkin coming home after a long day of perfecting his craft, slipping into his study and lovingly sliding a Jerky Boys CD into his Sony Disc man and booting up "Pico's Mexican Hairpiece" or "Gay Hairdresser” from The Jerky Boys 2 and then smiling warmly as the hilarity sweeps over him as he relaxes in a silk bathrobe, a glass of scotch in his hand.
Arkin is an extraordinarily smart, sharp-witted man. So there’s something perverse about seeing him play a character in Jerky Boys: The Movie whose defining characteristic is that he’s even stupider than the rest of the characters in a movie where the median IQ hovers below the triple digits.
Though he won an Academy Award for Little Miss Sunshine, that particular performance lacked many of the daunting acting challenges found in The Jerky Boys: The Movie. Little Miss Sunshine for example, lacks even a single scene of Arkin growing progressively more enraged as he endures terrible disrespect from the disembodied voice of a Jerky Boy antagonizing him over the phone, let alone multiple scenes where that happens, as in Jerky Boys: The Movie.
I have no reason to doubt Arkin’s reverence for the prank comedy stylings of the Jerky Boys on CD and during their appearances on The Howard Stern Show. But even he must have realized that Jerky Boys fatally lack “it.” By “it” I mostly mean movie star quality but that could be extended to include likability, charisma, humor, talent, chemistry, energy, magnetism, timing, non-punchable faces and basic competence.
The movie tries to convince us that Johnny B and Kamal are ordinary, round-the-way Queens guys who transform into vulgar comic geniuses on the level of Andy Kaufman and Sacha Baron Cohen the moment they pick up a phone and trot out a crazy fake cartoon voice only the person on the other end of the line doesn’t realize is clearly a crazy fake cartoon voice. It’s more accurate to describe them as ordinary, round-the-way Queens guys who transform into dumb, one-note pranksters when they get on the phone and work their curious non-magic.
Jerky Boys Johnny B and Kamal star here as pranksters Johnny B and Kamal, goofballs who still live with their mothers deep into adulthood and while away the hours indulging their love of wacky phone pranks. Of course the whole point of prank phone calls is that someone is genuinely being pranked. The tension between fake callers and real people being pranked is what gives prank calls their very faint edge of danger.
Making a prank phone call comedy where the prank phone calls are as fake as everything else defeats the purpose of making a prank phone call comedy. Yet Jerky Boys: The Movie exists all the same. The film’s plot finds these Queens fuck-ups getting mixed up in the underworld when they invent a fictional mobster named “Frank Rizzo” who a group of real-life mobsters led by Arkin and The Sopranos’ Vincent Pastore mistake for the real thing. Shenanigans ensue.
Since Jerky Boys: The Movie is fictional, the “Oh shit, this really happened” element of the phone calls is absent. This puts unbearable pressure on the calls themselves, which fall into one of a few categories. Brennan is particularly enamored of playing either a lisping caricature of a screamingly effeminate homosexual man who is continually talking about balls and cocks and butts and anuses in a lascivious and leering fashion, or an aggressive, super-macho gangster who is continually talking about balls and cocks and butts and anuses in an angry, threatening, aggressive fashion.
For the first 40 minutes of the film or so Kamal’s role is limited to sitting next to Johnny B and laughing awkwardly and unconvincingly while his partner does his shtick. It’s not exactly clear what exactly he contributes to the partnership early on but juvenile, overwhelmed filmmakers cannot live on gay panic jokes alone. So at a certain point, Kamal enters the driver’s seat, literally at times, to showcase his skill at playing a very narrow range of racist, cartoonish Indian and Arab stereotypes, including a clueless, turban-wearing cab-driver (hence the driver’s seat) and an Egyptian magician.
As “movie stars”, Johnny B and Kamal are almost impressively uncharismatic. It’s not just that they lack star-power: they seem to have anti-star-power. You know how charismatic James Brown is during his star-making turn in The T.A.M.I Show? That’s how non-charismatic Johnny B and Kamal are here. It does not help that Johnny B and Kamal look like they prepared for the film with a strict eight month diet of eating only powdered donuts washed down with strawberry milkshakes combined with watching buddies play Super Nintendo from morning until night.
The Jerky Boys: The Movie is best experienced as pure, cheap nostalgia. Watching it is like mainlining 1995. I’m not entirely sure what Helmet is doing in the movie: judging by their expressions, they don’t know either. Ozzy Osborne seems similarly befuddled as to why he’s in The Jerky Boys: The Movie. At least Tom Jones’s fiery rendition of “Are You Going To Go My Way” has the distinction of being the movie’s unabashed apex, but that says more about the film it’s awkwardly shoehorned into than the cover itself.
It’s all too easy seeing why Jerky Boys: The Movie was not followed by a whole slew of Jerky Boys vehicles. It does not help, of course, that these two exceedingly modest talents apparently hate each other. In Violent J’s memoir Behind The Paint, he writes about how disappointed he was to discover just how frosty Johnny B and Kamal’s relationship with each other was when they signed them up to appear in Big Money Hustlas and they would not share scenes with each other.
Johnny B and Kamal made Violent J sad by revealing that sometimes people who make artistic magic together despise each other in real life. I’ll never forgive them for that, nor for Jerky Boys: The Movie, which satisfied my curiosity about in the worst possible way.
For more on the Jerky Boys and their cinematic, check out the next episode of the great bad-movie podcast We Hate Movies
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