Cobbled together with a freewheeling carelessness that borders on arrogance, “Corky Romano” ranks as the most slapdash comedic star vehicle to hit screens since Harland Williams misfired with the career-stalling “RocketMan.” Pic is a significant step backward for “Saturday Night Live” regular Chris Kattan, who earned raves for his scene-stealing supporting turn in “Monkeybone.” A little bit of his hyperventilating wackiness goes a long way, and “Corky” provides way too much. Lame-brained farce might score decent opening-weekend numbers by attracting undiscriminating under-25 males, but bad word of mouth should effectively douse long-range prospects.
Working from a tissue-thin, by-the-numbers script by David Garrett and Jason Ward, TV commercial director Rob Pritts makes a singularly unpromising bigscreen debut. With annoying frequency, helmer simply stops pic dead in its tracks to give Kattan room for tediously repetitive shtick. Comic actor’s limited repertoire consists of little more than fey prancing, whiny panic, rubber-jointed pratfalls and giggly-girlish hysteria. But, then again, his role doesn’t call for much else.
Title character is introduced as the white sheep of a Mob family, long estranged from his gruff father (Peter Falk) and thick-witted brothers Paulie (Peter Berg) and Peter (Chris Penn). Corky (Kattan) is blissfully content in his work as an assistant veterinarian, a job that cues the first of pic’s many crude sight gags. (Corky pulls a snake out of his pants — not a trouser snake, mind you, but a real reptile — while standing in a crowded waiting room.) But when sickly Pops becomes the target of an FBI investigation, Leo Corrigan (Fred Ward), a seemingly loyal family retainer, brings the stray back into the Romano fold.
After convincing Pops that the feds have infiltrated the family, Leo drafts Corky to pose as a master FBI agent to retrieve any incriminating evidence. It’s a fool’s errand, and not just because a fool is given the job: Early on — during pic’s scene-setting prologue — Leo himself is revealed to the aud as the traitor passing info to the bureau.
Nothing that happens next is at all surprising. The chronically klutzy Romano repeatedly impresses his FBI commander (Richard Roundtree) and a beautiful special agent (Vinessa Shaw), primarily because his every gaffe is miraculously misconstrued as the clever work of a crack crime-buster. A jealous co-worker, Brick Davis (Matthew Glave), is less easily fooled by Corky’s charade. But the malcontent can do nothing to tarnish Corky’s reputation, not even when the faux fed pilfers evidence from an FBI vault.
On a few occasions — very few — Kattan cuts loose with a genuinely funny, gracefully antic bit of physicality. Indeed, when Corky rushes into, out of and all around a parked car while pursed by his brutish brothers, Kattan briefly evokes memories of Charlie Chaplin’s supple slapstick. Overall, though, Kattan is more overbearing than endearing, more nerve-grating than rib-tickling. And it doesn’t help much that he panders for laughs with shrill sing-alongs to ’80s pop hits.
Supporting players range from relatively blameless (Ward, Falk, Roundtree) to relentlessly obnoxious. Berg is desperately unfunny as Paulie, the brother whose fiery temper stems from frustrations born of his inability to read. And speaking of bad tempers: Peter is revealed as short-fused because he’s in deep denial about his repressed homosexuality. Penn struggles to mine humor from this character quirk, but to little avail.
Not for the first time, a “Saturday Night Live” star has embarrassed himself with a lowbrow, high-concept comedy that, in an earlier era, might have been the target of a wickedly cruel “SNL” skit. Barely adequate tech values underscore the underachievement level on both sides of the camera.