Control Nathan Rabin: Larry Gaye: Renegade Male Flight Attendant
My name is Nathan Rabin and I have a shameful confession to make: for the most part, I enjoyed Larry Gaye, Renegade Flight Attendant, a film I chose specifically because it looked like it couldn’t possibly be enjoyable. I laughed at a movie called Larry Gaye, Renegade Flight Attendant, for fuck’s sake! That I watched completely sober. With not a single Larry Gaye, Maverick Flight Attendant-enhancing substance in my system!
This is the column where I give the living saints who donate to this site’s Patreon page a choice of two cinematic stinkers I must watch, and then write about. This time around, I chose a pair of would-be star-making vehicles that, needless to say, failed to make Dave Sheridan and Mark Feuerstein movie stars. Or household names. Or people who will probably ever star in another movie again.
Sheridan’s would-be star-maker was an insurance-themed turkey entitled Frank McKlusky C.I, that I ended up writing about for This Looks Terrible! both because it did, indeed, look terrible, and was, in fact, terrible, but also because I am both a morbidly curious and masochistic motherfucker. The type of motherfucker who straight-up chooses to see Frank McKlusky when the universe, and also his readers/patrons/bosses, give him an out.
The other is 2015’s equally dreadful-looking Larry Gaye: Renegade Male Flight Attendant, which similarly failed to launch Mark Feuerstein as the cinematic funnyman of tomorrow. Or to get more than a limited theatrical release. Or to make any cultural impact whatsoever. And that’s a shame, to a degree, because I laughed a lot more at this goofball comedy than I have at plenty of movies that got broad theatrical releases and good reviews.
I do not laugh easily. “Did this comedy make me laugh even a single time?” is an important benchmark for comedies that a disconcerting amount of would-be laughers never meet. So when a movie makes me laugh out loud at least a dozen times, as Gaye did, I’m inclined to forgive an awful lot, and Gaye has an awful lot to forgive.
I suspect Larry Gaye: Renegade Male Flight Attendant would have received a less frosty reception if it were called anything but Larry Gaye: Renegade Male Flight Attendant. When a movie title hinges on audiences finding a lead character’s profession and/or gender inherently hilarious, as in the rapturously received early 1980s Vicki Lawrence vehicle Cindy Morganasteen, Female Haberdasher, the profession better be innately gut-busting. Or consider Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector. That’s two hilarious professions in a single movie title! Plus the hilarious name Larry! I’m laughing just thinking about it, and I’ve seen, and loathed, Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector.
Incidentally, I like to think the movie’s original title was Larry the Cable Guy: Renegade Male Flight Attendant but they showed it to Cable Guy and he looked at the title page and scoffed indignantly, “Me, Larry the Cable Guy, play a “Renegade Male Flight Attendant?” That’s straight-up fruity! Might as well call it Larry Gay: Renegade Male Flight Attendant. That’s just funny right there! Get-R-Done! Buy Prilosec!” and the filmmakers misconstrued his homophobic insults as an intriguing new direction to take the character.
Of course the king of these titles is Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, which hilariously combines pets and detecting! Al-righty, then! Oh man. As someone trying to convince people that Larry Gaye: Renegade Male Flight Attendant is actually funny in spite of all available evidence (including a dire trailer), I wish the movie did not imagine that the word “gay” was inherently chuckle-worthy to people in 2015.
I also wish they did not labor under the delusion that a male flight attendant is similarly so crazy as to be inherently ridiculous and funny. And as a Highlander super-fan I think the word “Renegade” should be reserved for Russell Mulcahy’s Director’s Cut of Highlander 2: The Quickening: The Renegade Version. I do, however, share its certainty that the word “Larry” equals chuckles aplenty. That’s why Larry the Cable Guy does not perform under his birth name Oswald Jonah Farthington Rockefeller III and also why the TV show Hello, Larry! was one of the biggest successes in all of television.
Take away the groaningly awful, regressive, desperately unfunny title and you’re left with a 100 minute long comedy about a womanizing, narcoleptic flight attendant who is somehow simultaneously a dithering, oblivious, Leslie Nielsen-type buffoon and preternaturally gifted, who wrestles with daddy issues and a son he never knew when not battling a sexy robotic arch-rival played by Rebecca Romijn.
Wait, that sounds terrible as well. If anything, maybe it sounds even worse than you might imagine a movie called Larry Gaye: Renegade Male Flight Attendant might be. I’m just digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole, aren’t I?
Anywho, Feuerstein of The Royal Pains fame, stars the titular, ostensibly humorously named maverick waiter in the sky, an unrepentant womanizer who has dealt with his father’s abandonment by purposefully never setting down roots, hopping from one city to another, and from one (or more) beautiful female conquest to the next.
Jason Alexander is hilarious as Gaye’s rolling stone of an old man, introduced telling his son, “Have a good life—until tomorrow morning, when I will see you again!” before sneaking out of the the house in the dark of night after assuring his sad-eyed son, “I’m certainly not running out on you or your mother, or the life of debt and dysfunction we’ve built together!” When his son asks him what he’s doing with his suitcases packed in the middle of the night with suitcases packed, he tells him he’s going to the 24 hour suitcase polisher.
What’s a big name like Alexander doing in a movie like this? Getting big laughs playing a pretty hilarious character. He even returns at the very end, just in time to abandon his son for a second time, this time when they’re both adults. This leaves an indelible mark on Gaye, who isn’t able to watch TV shows like Boys Whose Fathers Love Them and Have Not Run Away Unexpectedly without it bringing up uncomfortable, unwanted emotions.
Feuerstein plays Gaye as a preening narcissist equally committed to being the best flight attendant in the world and working his way through a goodly percentage of attractive young women between the ages of 18 and 35. He’s the best of the best, a veritable ninja of the flight attendant arts with a breezy smile that only partially masks the crushing emptiness at the core of his being he sometimes references.
One of the film’s running jokes is that Gaye brings the meticulousness of his work to everything he does, whether he’s carrying a breakfast tray throughout seemingly all of New York while on a layover, or selling a bottle of alcohol to a woman, using a credit card because she does not have exact change, before making sweet passionate love in an airplane bathroom, or “boning in a sky john” as it’s otherwise known.
Feuerstein, who looks like a more handsome Sklar Brother, plays Gaye as a grinning idiot/superman who boasts of his younger self when his heart was set on becoming a pilot, “I wasn’t cocky. I just knew what I was doing. And bragged about it in an obnoxious way.”
Alas, Gaye’s narcolepsy kept him from achieving his dreams of becoming a pilot but he still longed to escape the rejection and punishment of life on the ground, so he became the world’s most accomplished flight attendant. He’s so good that when his airline contemplates replacing its flight attendants with androids he’s chosen to represent human flight attendants, and, I suppose, by extension, all of humanity, in a head-to-robotic-head contest between him and a sexy robo-stewardess played by Rebecca Romijn.
Gaye does not embrace his destiny fighting for his human colleagues in the face of inhuman competition. In fact, his exact response to being offered a hero’s journey is a firm, “Seems like a hassle. Pass!” before putting on his headphones. Larry Gaye knows that it's a movie, and a particularly silly one at that, and they know that the audience understands that they’re watching a purposefully silly fiction, and has a lot of fun with conventions.
Early in the film, for example, there’s a breezy scene where the epically self-absorbed Gaye tries to sell an “unauthorized autobiography” of his life that he hasn’t actually written yet, one of several problems with it, from a commercial standpoint, to a publishing house. Stanley Tucci plays the publishing executive he’s pitching to. The humor in scenes like these generally comes from the ridiculousness and absurdity of the pitch, and the unselfconscious arrogance with which it is delivered.
The comedy in this particular scene is partially rooted in the preposterousness of the pitch but also from a more meta-understanding that meetings like this could never happen in real life because there or four levels you need to work through before you’re actually pitching to the people in charge. Tucci, in a performance that feels improvised, calls constant attention to that, wondering out loud at one point, “Do we have any kind of a screening process here?” before firing the employee responsible for Gaye wasting his time.
I laughed at Larry Gaye more than I’m comfortable admitting, but I will be the first to concede that it is not a perfect motion picture. As you might imagine, there are a good eight to ten jokes rooted in its protagonist’s last name being a synonym for homosexual. Are these jokes funny? No, they are not. Does it need them? No, it does not. Would a version of this movie where the title character is named, I dunno, something like Frank McKlusky, be substantially better than this version? I would imagine so.
The movie similarly does not have to be one hundred minutes long. Hell, if any film other than Frank McKlusky, C.I has a terrific excuse to only be eighty to eighty three minutes long, it’s Larry Gaye, Renegade Flight Attendant. On a similar note, Larry Gaye does not have to experience a redemptive character arc. He does not need to learn and grow and evolve over the course of the film.
The movie just has to make people laugh. It does not have to have an emotional component. Gaye does not need to learn how to look beyond his own selfish needs and formative childhood trauma and embrace being part of a family. Yet the movie feels the need to do all of these things all the same, and they only end up padding out an already bloated and excessive hour and forty minute long runtime.
And the filmmakers probably should have found a better way to honor Airplane than by ripping off its premise for its climax, which finds Gaye called upon to save a flight in crisis by finally utilizing his skills as a pilot.
But in a way, all of these substantive flaws don’t really matter because the movie made me laugh with a frequency and intensity unusual for comedies. It’s no overlooked masterpiece, but it is a funny comedy, something that is shockingly rare in pop culture, and particularly unusual for mainstream cinematic comedies.
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