Captain Ron (1992) — Kurt Russell can captain our boat any day

“Uh, leg feels a lot better now, boss. I always been a fast healer, you know. ‘Course I believe in Jesus, so that helps.”

Justin’s rating: Time to do the mamba!

Justin’s review: It’s a rare movie that manages to capture the spirit — if not the exact details — of a family vacation gone a little sideways. The Griswolds did it in Vacation, of course, and I’ve heard that The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a new classic. But if you’re stuck in the early 1990s, the place you really wanted to schlep the family was the Caribbean — and the skipper you wanted to hire was Captain Ron.

Our movie family for this trip are the Harveys, a middle-class clan consisting of Martin (Martin Short), his wife Katherine (Mary Kay Place), 16-year-old daughter Caroline (Meadow Sisto), and 11-year-old Ben (Benjamin Salisbury). Martin learns that he’s inherited a sailboat worth a quarter of a million and convinces the family to jet down to the tropics to bring it to a buyer. It’s a spur-of-the-moment adventure, he rationalizes — and his wife agrees after Caroline gets engaged to a punk kid.

But once they get there, the Harveys see that the boat is… well, it’s a little under the weather and requires an experienced person at the helm. So they hire Captain Ron (Kurt Russell), a slightly unhinged one-eyed seadog, to help them through the journey.

It’s here that we must pause to assess the virtues and fortitude of our titular captain. He’s straight from the Jimmy Buffett Book of Caribbean Stereotypes, what with his laconic nature, rarely buttoned shirt, and a lazily practical approach to life’s little problems. Right from the get-go, it’s clear that Kurt Russell is having the time of his life playing Ron with all of his swagger, snarky asides, and quick thinking. He’s like if Snake Plissken retired and loosened up under heavy medication. He’s a sleaze, but he’s a lovable sleaze, and that made all the difference here.

The Harveys quickly find themselves warming up to Captain Ron — all save Martin, who is rankled by the lack of the captain’s planning and caution (and, if we’re being honest, how Ron kind of hits on his wife and daughter). But the waves of this tension breaks when Martin becomes mentored by Ron and grows competent in his own right. There’s a lot of pressure for dads to be perfect and capable, and I can relate to Martin’s desire to be a pillar of manhood in his own family.

The voyage of the Wanderer begins in frantic gunfire and goes downhill from there. There’s a near drowning in a shower, men overboard, drunken Monopoly matches, guerillas, a minor boat fire, huge squalls, brushes with the law, and — of course — the pirates of the Caribbean.

Captain Ron is the perfect candidate for a cult comedy. It was largely shunned at release (please, don’t look up its Rotten Tomatoes rating) but grew a devoted audience thanks to its energy, dialogue, and likable nature. I’d been hearing about it for years and was glad to finally check it out myself. It is, trust me, just as fun as promised. There’s not a mean bone in this movie’s body (compare that to a lot of modern comedies, I ask you), but that doesn’t stop it from being ridiculous and quotable as all get out.

This film embraces the lackadaisical attitude of the Caribbean and feels like a beachside shindig. The reggae soundtrack is ten shades of relaxing, the jokes obvious but still funny, and the speedos unnecessary but ever-present. Crack yourself open this one when you can’t get to a beach on your own.

Didja notice?

  • Bike messenger bags back in 1992 still looked cool
  • That coffee cup never held coffee, did it?
  • “We’re getting a boat!”
  • It’s cool to get engaged when you’re 16
  • That boat looks awesome even run down
  • “Mom, Ben fell in the water!”
  • The life preserver sinking got a snort from me
  • That’s one way to get rid of a car!
  • How Captain Ron lost his eye
  • The gunman being tackled by the locals
  • Possibly dead Captain Ron. Better poke him with a stick.
  • “Don’t worry, they’ll get out of the way”
  • I don’t really need to see Martin Short in a shirt and no pants
  • Ron needs to be bribed to let Caroline go
  • Nearly drowning in the shower, why not
  • The kid drinking and gambling with Ron. Good role model, here!
  • Ted’s, the island
  • Turning Ben into an anchor
  • The airplane turned into a diner
  • Guerillas, not gorillas
  • Have to have some guns for the pirates. Pirates of the Caribbean.
  • Ben showing up with a tattoo. I love that kid.

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