Combustible Celluloid
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With: Chris Elliott, Ritch Brinkley, James Gammon, Brian Doyle-Murray, Brion James, Melora Walters, Andy Richter, Ann Magnuson, Russ Tamblyn, Ricki Lake, Mike Starr, David Letterman, Bob Elliott, Alfred Molina, Jim Cummings (voice)
Written by: Adam Resnick, based on a story by Chris Elliott, Adam Resnick
Directed by: Adam Resnick
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for crude language
Running Time: 80
Date: 01/07/1994

Cabin Boy (1994)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Buying a Monkey

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This universally loathed flop may have the makings of a future cult classic, although at the moment it's more of a guilty pleasure; no one wants to admit that they like it, except me. I count myself as one of the movie's dozen or so fans.

Nathanial Mayweather (Chris Elliott) is a spoiled, educated "fancy lad," who is destined for a life of ease and luxury. Unfortunately, after graduating, he is waylaid on his way to his ship and accidentally boards a rundown fishing vessel called "The Filthy Whore." He tries to detour the ship to Hawaii but ends up in a mystical region called "Hell's Bucket" where strange things begin happening.

The ship's captain and crew can't stand Nathaniel and try many ways to deal with him, both putting him to work and attempting to get rid of him. Meanwhile, a Guinness Book distance swimmer (Melora Walters) also boards the ship, and Nathanial begins to learn to be a man at last. But is it too late?

Star and co-writer Chris Elliott had come from "Saturday Night Live" and "David Letterman" as well as his own short-lived cult TV show "Get a Life," but nothing could have prepared audiences for this weird, fantastical adventure with strange visuals and off-kilter rhythms. (Tim Burton was originally intended to direct; he remains a producer and it definitely seems to have kept some of his "touch.")

Elliot plays a distinctly unlikable character, although none of the other characters have much in the way of redeeming qualities either. Yet, this deliberately provocative approach has its benefits. The humor is so decidedly weird and unexpected that open-minded viewers may find themselves amused at any given moment.

It might help if you were already aware of Elliott's deliberately annoying comic persona, or if you were a fan of cult actors like Brion James, James Gammon, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Russ Tamblyn. Even Letterman makes a rather infamous cameo here.

In 2018, Kino Lorber released a super-deluxe new Blu-ray edition, perhaps indicating that the movie has more fans than we think? The movie looks and sounds amazing, better than I've ever seen it before; colors are strong, and the movie's surreal visuals, while perhaps a bit dated, are mesmerizing. It includes a sad, but informative commentary track by Resnick and Elliott, who seem genuinely ashamed of their film, perhaps beaten down by its long-held nasty, negative reception.

There's also a new 45-minute interview with the two, featuring behind-the-scenes footage. Other extras include Walters' and Richter's audition footage, about 6 minutes of B-Roll, archival cast interviews (about 8 minutes), 6-1/2 minutes of outtakes, plus trailers, TV spots and optional English subtitles. A liner notes essay by critic Nick Pinkerton is perhaps the first step in redeeming this maligned treat.

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