Thursday, March 29, 2018

Idiot Savants: Netflix’s Game Over, Man!

Blake Anderson, Anders Holm, and Adam Devine in Game Over, Man!.

The Comedy Central sitcom Workaholics was brilliant for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that almost all of it – co-creation, writing, directing, and acting – was the brainchild of just four people: Anders Holm, Blake Anderson, Adam DeVine, and Kyle Newacheck. The collective drug-fueled lowbrow ingenuity of this self-proclaimed “Friendship Family,” formed in the mid-2000s as a sketch group called Mail Order Comedy, made Workaholics a uniquely hilarious take on situational stoner TV, and catapulted several members of the crew to much bigger careers in film and television.

As barely-fictionalized versions of themselves, the trio of Anders, Blake, and Adam smoked, drank, and slacked their way through seven seasons of insanely unhinged comedy, centering around this inseparable triumvirate of dumb-ass stoner man-children. Taking notes on everything from Napoleon Dynamite to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to Seinfeld, Workaholics was the proof of concept for a winning comedy formula that hinged on the lovable, self-effacing personalities of its leads and their natural, effortless chemistry with one another. I’m pleased to say this formula maintains its staying power through the transition to a larger platform and a bigger budget with the Netflix film Game Over, Man!, which is chock-full of the same extreme gross-out slapstick as Workaholics, but, crucially, also contains just as much cleverness.

Directed by Newacheck, written by Holm, and starring Holm, Anderson, and DeVine as (once again) barely-fictionalized versions of themselves, Game Over, Man! is Die Hard with idiotic hotel waiters instead of a New York cop (a fact that is cheekily referenced in dialogue when one of the terrorists taking over the hotel says, “You didn’t bring me along because I look like the black dude from Die Hard”). The premise is just a vehicle for an increasingly ridiculous array of vulgar, outlandish setpieces in which Darren (Holm), Joel (Anderson), and Alexxx (DeVine, and yes, that’s really how his name is spelled) fight to take control of the hotel back from terrorists who have kidnapped a guest, the Bey of Tunisia (Utkarsh Ambudkar), who had promised to finance the video game that the trio is trying to develop. The first twenty minutes of table-setting had me sullen and silent on the couch, wondering if I was ever going to laugh – but a scene in which the boys hide in one of the rooms from a pair of terrorists sweeping the hotel was so suddenly and shockingly gut-busting, I had to rewind it and watch it again. From that point on, Game Over, Man! only gets funnier, and I don’t mind admitting to a feeling of relief about that.

If you’re not familiar with these creators, then it’s likely that sentiment may seem odd. Usually outrageous slacker comedy doesn’t generate such a strong emotional connection from a viewer; why should I care if the Workaholics boys flopped on their first direct-to-streaming feature? The truth, though, gets at the heart of why I think their comedy works so well in the first place. Despite its gross-out gags (like a fight scene involving a deli meat slicer), its balls-to-the-wall attitude (mostly re: multiple instances of full-frontal male nudity), and its penchant for non-PC material (including a character played by Daniel Stern who’s essentially a delivery system for disgusting male behaviour), Game Over, Man! actually hits some genuinely resonant emotional notes. This stuff, of course, is sold entirely by the film’s extremely charismatic leads, their natural, practiced rapport with one another, and the pointed accuracy of the script in attacking the absurdity of the faux-bro personas these naive, sweet, idiotic man-children assign themselves. Darren’s unflappable cool-guy thing is a cover for drug addiction; Alexxx’s macho bluster masks deep-seated insecurity; and Joel (who is undoubtedly the best-adjusted of the three, despite looking the weirdest) is alienated by his friends for his closeted homosexuality – not because they disapprove, but because he doesn’t realize they already know and are just respectfully waiting for him to come out on his own terms. Some of the cleverest film comedies have also been some of the grossest, and the truism that “it takes smarts to be this dumb” has never felt truer than with Game Over, Man!, whose structure, pacing, and character-based setups and payoffs are more functional than in half of the films you’ll see at the cineplex right now.

This film is being absolutely blasted by critics, who are lambasting its vulgarity and bemoaning its lack of humour. Whether or not you find this style of comedy funny is entirely subjective, but I don’t agree that Game Over, Man!’s comedy lacks structure, or that its vulgarity is empty. What makes the work of this crew funny and appealing to me has always been the same: as in the best comedies featuring reprehensible characters you’d never want to meet in real life, these characters and their repression, insecurity, and hubris are the butt of the joke. That’s what makes the slapstick land with a satisfying, hilarious crunch instead of a dull thud. The Workaholics boys have always known this, and when they got the chance to translate that uniquely absurd brand of yuks to a bigger format, they stepped up to the challenge in every way that matters. Apparently, the name of their show wasn’t an ironic goof after all.

– Justin Cummings is a narrative designer at Ubisoft Toronto, and has worked as a writer, blogger, and playwright since 2005. He has been a lifelong student of film, gaming, and literature, commenting on industry and culture since his childhood cinema first installed an arcade.

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