Broken Lizard’s fifth bigscreen laffer, “The Slammin’ Salmon,” passes the helming baton from Jay Chandrasekhar to teammate Kevin Heffernan with no discernible change in the troupe’s high-energy, low-yield dynamic. Gags concern the fierce competition among the waitstaff of the titular upscale Miami eatery owned by former heavyweight champion Cleon Salmon (Michael Clarke Duncan), as employees hustle overtime to cover their punch-throwing boss’s gambling debt. Reaffirming the ensemble’s usual blithe disregard for talent, timing or verbal wit, the pic seems unlikely to expand their fan base beyond those who prefer the bare-bones concept of a joke to its actual execution.
Hit-and-miss bits range from the excremental (strained humor involving an accidentally swallowed diamond ring) to the semi-sadistic (a waitress’s flirtatious come-ons to customers are greatly hampered by facial burns) in rounds of dirty-trick one-upmanship. Each staffer scrambles to pull in the most money, win the improbably promised $10,000 bonus and avoid the threatened booby prize of a “broken-rib sandwich.”
Following Broken Lizard’s past efforts (“Puddle Cruiser,” “Super Troopers,” “Club Dread” and “Beerfest”), the pic casts the group regulars in generic variations of their usual repertoire: Steve Lemme as a returning waiter whose career as star of “CSI: Hotlanta” was cut short when he surgically altered the enormous schnozz that got him the part; Jay Chandrasekhar as a soft-spoken server who throws caution, clothing and any semblance of civilized behavior to the wind once he goes off his meds; Erik Stolhanske as an amoral, skirt-chasing sleazeball; Kevin Heffernan as the restaurant’s brown-nosing manager; and Paul Soter in the dual role of the caustic chef and his newly hired, clueless identical twin.
Distaff honors go to non-Lizards April Bowlby as a balletic blonde and Cobie Smulders as a dedicated med student and the cast’s one nominally normal person. Generally effective cameos include Lance Henriksen as TV producer Dick Lobo, Morgan Fairchild as herself and Vivica A. Fox as pop-music diva Nutella (her second successful foray into improv-inspired comedy following her season-long stint on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”).
But it is the presence of Duncan as a Mike Tyson-esque, malaprop-spouting ex-champion that, at least momentarily, lifts the pic out of its mediocrity. Swinging between smiling generosity and lethal aggression, and prone to dramatic entrances (announced via a mic dropped ringside-style), Cleon Salmon is one bigger-than-life dude, and the infectious glee with which Duncan flexes his suitably over-the-top perf infuses the anemic goings-on with much-needed color and personality.