Review: ‘Cabin Boy’

Call this one "The Nightmare After Christmas." Obnoxious, snide and pointless , this ill-fated spoof carries the bonus of being as crude and gamy as the hold of an old fishing barge. Still, that aroma probably won't linger, as this fish figures to sail out of theaters quickly.

Call this one “The Nightmare After Christmas.” Obnoxious, snide and pointless , this ill-fated spoof carries the bonus of being as crude and gamy as the hold of an old fishing barge. Still, that aroma probably won’t linger, as this fish figures to sail out of theaters quickly.

Although Tim Burton’s company produced the film, the filmmaker clearly left the creative carnage to the team of Chris Elliott and writer-director Adam Resnick, both former “Late Night With David Letterman” scribes (they share story credit here) before collaborating on the short-lived Fox Broadcasting series “Get a Life.”

Elliott, sadly, may have topped out with his two-minute appearances on “Late Night,” since subsequent exposures of any greater length have proven grating at best. Think of this as a bad version of an old “Saturday Night Live” sketch, stretched to an interminable 80 minutes.

Elliott plays a finishing school snob who, en route to his father’s hotel in Hawaii, accidentally boards the wrong boat. Instead of an elegant yacht, he ends up on a schooner, The Filthy Whore, populated by a quintet of surly, grizzled fishermen who delight in abusing him.

But wait, it gets worse. The ship nears an island called Hell’s Bucket, which leads to the inexplicable addition of several fantasy elements lifted from old Sinbad movies, from a snow beast to the six-armed dominatrix Calli (Ann Magnuson). Elliott’s character also discovers a love interest, Trina (Melora Walters), who runs afoul of the boat while seeking to swim around the world.

Russ Tamblyn turns up in a silent cameo as a half-man, half-shark named Chocki, as does Ricki Lake playing the boat’s figurehead — both parts that suggest considerable editing was done in an effort to reduce the damage. Even old pal Dave Letterman, listed in the credits as “Earl Hofert,” turns up briefly and, indicative of the general malaise, draws barely a chuckle.

Elliott either can’t act or seemsunwilling to try, preventing the film from deviating for a moment from its churlishly broad tone. The rest of the cast, including such capable character actors as James Gammon and Brion James, are left mostly to fend for themselves under Resnick’s slapdash direction.

In addition to Elliott and Resnick, “Get a Life” alumni Brian Doyle-Murray and Bob Elliott (Chris’ dad) also join the voyage (as does Andy Richter, latenight host Conan O’Brien’s sidekick), creating the impression we’re watching a reunion from a failed, little-seen sitcom. According to the production notes, producers Burton and Denise Di Novi were big fans of the show, which seems admirable by comparison.

Purposely shoddy sets and special effects only add to the mess. Elliott might be best served by a return to Letterman’s show, where he could reprise such sketches as “the guy under the seats.” In this case, anywhere but in them would be an improvement.

Cabin Boy


A Buena Vista release of a Touchstone Pictures presentation of a Burton/Di Novi production. Produced by Tim Burton, Denise Di Novi. Executive producers, Steve White, Barry Bernardi. Directed, written by Adam Resnick. Story, Chris Elliott, Resnick.


Camera (Fotokem color, Technicolor prints), Steve Yaconelli; editor, Jon Poll; music, Steve Bartek; production design, Steven Legler; art direction, Nanci B. Roberts, Daniel A. Lomino; set design, Stephen Alesch; set decoration, Roberta J. Holinko; costume design, Colleen Atwood; sound (Dolby), Edward Tise; assistant director, Thomas Irvine; visual effects supervisor, Michael Lessa; casting, Rik Pagano, Sharon Bialy, Debi Manwiller. Reviewed at the GCC Beverly Connection, L.A., Jan. 5, 1994. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 80 min.


Nathanial Mayweather - Chris Elliott
Captain Greybar - Ritch Brinkley
Paps - James Gammon
Skunk - Brian Doyle-Murray
Big Teddy - Brion James
Trina - Melora Walters
Calli - Ann Magnuson
Chocki - Russ Tamblyn
Figurehead - Ricki Lake
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