I'll admit it: I have little patience for the comedy troupe Broken Lizard. Their brand of irreverence has always registered to me as excruciatingly forced, with pictures such as "Super Troopers," "Beerfest," and "Club Dread" coming across not only downright unfunny, but also criminally slapdash, possibly reflecting the obscure origins of the group. "Slammin' Salmon" is their latest endeavor, featuring a few key changes in backstage responsibility and a reduction in locations. Consider me thunderstruck, but the creative shake-up infuses a fresh comedic drive into the team; "Salmon" is legitimately funny, agreeably cartoonish, and, for the very first time in their mystifying career, focused.
It's a big night for the Miami restaurant Cleon's Slammin' Salmon, run by a former heavyweight champion (Michael Clarke Duncan) with a taste for punishment. Forced to come up with $20,000 to cover a gambling debt for their boss, the wait staff is pushed into a contest, with the server pulling in the most money offered a giant cash prize, while the loser is beaten to a pulp. For manager Rich (Kevin Heffernan), the pressure is on to make the money happen, sending his eclectic staff (including Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske, Cobie Smulders, April Bowlby, and Jay Chandrasekhar) off to charm major coin out of the customers, while watching the entire evening teeter on the edge of disaster.
For the previous Broken Lizard pictures, directorial control was handed to Chandrasekhar, who usually highlighted woeful timing and pulled unreasonably broad performances from the troupe to help sell feeble screenplays. Chandrasekhar also helmed the 2005 "Dukes of Hazzard" big-screen mess, further cementing his limited gifts behind the camera. The role of bossman has been turned over to Heffernan for "Salmon," and he appears more confident and crafty as a director, limiting Broken Lizard's iffy reach to a single setting for this new comedy, containing the madness inside Cleon's beloved seafood restaurant.
While food service comedies have come and gone before (most recently in 2005's "Waiting"), "Salmon" has an agreeable cartoon edge to mesh with the insider restaurant humor, nudged along assertively by Heffernan. The film isn't a wild deviation from previous Broken Lizard adventures, but there's a certain merry, buoyant quality to "Salmon" that's never been permitted to develop in the earlier pictures. The material is nimble and outstandingly fixated on the job at hand, rarely straying away from the central contest plot, which encourages a tighter routine of slapstick and satire. "Salmon" is goofy and quirky, but Heffernan would rather include the larger audience in on the fun, instead of tiresome enigmatic jokes that speak directly to cult audiences. Broken Lizard fans will find much to celebrate here, but there's a concerted effort to amp up the good-natured tomfoolery, which results in a funnier, fresher movie.
The cast also rises to the occasion, with the ensemble working as a whole to lend staff members their personalities and special interactions. As Connor, the humiliated actor returning to server life, Lemme is ostensibly the straight man of the picture, dryly aware of the madness brewing within the restaurant, and he makes a dependable leading man. I also enjoyed Bowlby as enthused employee Mia, who endures a few horrific facial burnings during her race to the grand prize. Actually, there's not a misstep in the cast, but the real spitfire of the film is Duncan, who gives a career-best performance as the hulking boxing titan Cleon Salmon, who's great with a left hook, but an appalling wordsmith (and hates to be reminded of it). Duncan is a scream as the threatening force driving the restaurant chaos, and it's refreshing to see Broken Lizard take the spotlight off themselves for a change, allowing someone else to sample the crazy.
The VC-1 encoded presentation (1.78:1 aspect ratio) is excellent on the BD. With only the cavernous restaurant interior to feel out visually, the crispness of the cinematography is retained splendidly, with a special pop of color that helps to buy into the Floridian atmosphere. Blues on uniforms and eyes have a special push, while the glow of the lighting scheme helps to sell the sets. Detail is healthy throughout, good with comical facial responses and make-up consistency. Shadow detail is strong with the film's few low-light sequences, while skintones are contained and expressive, fitting the various personalities gathered here.
The 5.1 PCM track doesn't have the largest opportunity to explore a range of sounds, but the comedic intent is sustained throughout. Atmospherics are well taken care of, with an attractive mood of diners and chatter in the surrounds, making for an enveloping feel of a working restaurant. Dialogue is crisp and always easy to decode, with a pleasing frontal push of punchlines and general slapstick. Scoring cues blend nicely into the mix. There's very little low-end here to settle the track, but the overall snap of gaiety is accessible.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
There are two feature-length audio commentary tracks, the first features Kevin Heffernan and Steve Lemme, while the second highlights Jay Chandrasekhar, Erik Stolhanske, and Paul Soter. Why split the boys into two groups? No idea, but both commentaries tend to follow the same routine of jokes, information, and more jokes. These being well-trained jesters, the boys love to poke fun at one another, but there's plenty of time set aside to reveal character inspirations (much was pulled from the commentators' own server history) and a few technical challenges that arose during the speedy shooting period. The tracks aren't hilarious, but they have a certain welcome energy reflecting the camaraderie of the group. If there's one to recommend, it would be the Heffernan/Lemme track, which takes a more personal, directorial perspective.
"Hellish Kitchens: Life Imitates Art" (6:51) continues the commentary conversation, with the members of Broken Lizard recalling their restaurant war stories while riding around in the back of a van.
A Theatrical Trailer has been included.
With the servers growing increasingly drunk, forgetting to take their meds, and swallowing hidden engagement rings, there's plenty of comedic ground to cover over a frighteningly tight 95 minutes. I laughed throughout "The Slammin' Salmon," groaned a bit here and there too, but smiles and Broken Lizard? I'd never thought I'd see the day when the two would meet.