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 anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation on this DVD slightly inhibits the bold lighting and colors of the set design. Hues seem soft and distant, with only the more brash costumes registering with their natural vibrancy. Detail is better, with good clarity on the madness at hand, with only a few instances of EE observed. Skintones run a bit pinkish, but stay within reality, and the film's occasional make-up effects maintain their severity. Black levels are hearty and restrained.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix goes big for key slapstick sequences, sustaining a crisp audio environment that encourages the comedy. Restaurant atmospherics are well preserved, with crowd ambiance and server movement working into the surrounds, giving the listener a center seat to the action. Dialogue is easily discernable and nicely layered with scoring cues, reaching a few tinny hotspots when matters slip out of hand, but no distortion was detected.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are offered.
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.