The Jerky Boys,” a comedy inspired by the antics of prank phone-callers Johnny Brennan and Kamal Ahmed, is a lowbrow, high-concept item that could click with undemanding audiences out for a rowdy good time. Pic definitely has potential to reach beyond the stars’ cult following, though it likely will fall well short of “Dumb and Dumber” numbers.
Kamal (as he is known professionally) and Brennan more or less play themselves in “Jerky Boys,” which they co-wrote with Rich Wilkes and director James Melkonian as a star vehicle built for two. They are repeatedly de-
scribed, by themselves and others, as “a couple of low lifes from Queens.” And they do their best to live down to that reputation.
Chronically unemployed and proud of it, Johnny and Kamal are thirtysomething loafers who spend most of their time making the kind of prank phone calls that, in real life, have already generated two top-selling comedy albums.
When a former high school classmate (James Lorinz) gets a little too cocky about his low-level job with the local Mafia branch, the Jerky Boys decide to have some fun. Johnny calls the mob headquarters, passes himself off as anotorious Chicago hood and gets the goodfellas to believe two hit men will need their hospitality.
Naturally, Johnny and Kamal introduce themselves as the hit men, and are treated with the utmost professional courtesy by their underworld hosts. (They’re even taken to a nightclub where Tom Jones — yes, the real Tom Jones — belts out a soulful version of Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way.”) Just as naturally, the mob boss (Alan Arkin) quickly sees through the ruse.
Trouble is, a hardboiled cop (Brad Sullivan) isn’t nearly so perceptive. He believes there really is a Chicago crime boss behind Johnny and Kamal, and he’s bent on getting the Jerky Boys to lead him to this criminal mastermind.
At once contrived and simplistic, the plotting in “Jerky Boys” is fairly slapdash and almost totally irrelevant. The thin narrative exists only as an excuse for Johnny and Kamal to do their thing as precocious impostors on and off the phone.
Drawing heavily from the cast of characters they introduced on their comedy albums, they pretend to be a nightclub magician, a hot-headed gangster, a pair of roadies and, while hiding from Mafia hoods, a couple of bathroom-stall Romeos. The latter bit is just one of many that will cause the politically correct crowd to fume.
“Jerky Boys” gets a surprising amount of mileage from a gimmick that is nothing more than a foul-mouthed variation of the old “Do you have Prince Albert in a can?” gambit. Even when they’re nowhere near a phone, the two leads manage to get laughs with physical shtick and sarcastic silliness. At its sporadic best , pic has something of the same beery and bawdy anarchic spirit that propelled the original “Animal House” and its many slob-comedy clones.
Melkonian’s direction often seems flat-footed, the tech credits are unremarkable and the pic as a whole, though just 81 minutes long, seems padded. A flashback involving retired mobster William Hickey has no apparent purpose other than to eat up screen time.
Even so, Brennan and Ahmed prove to be suitably energetic zanies in their screen debuts. It helps of course, that they are surrounded by a first-rate cast of veteran supporting players. Arkin, Alan North and Suzanne Shepherd are standouts.