Men at Work (1990) — A last breath of the ’80s

“There are several sacred things in this world that you don’t ever mess with. One of them happens to be another man’s fries.”

Justin’s rating: I can honestly say I’ve never had a corpse watch me pee

Justin’s review: As well well know, the first year in a new decade is, for all intents and purposes, the last year of the previous decade. Especially when it comes to movies. 1990 churned out a quite a few flicks that were clearly ex-pats from the ’80s, like House Party, Young Guns II, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Let’s throw another one on that pile, shall we? Settle in for a little Men at Work.

Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, and starring the Mighty Duck himself and his brother Charlie Sheen, Men at Work thrives on a lot of ’80s comedy staples. These include bizarre coincidences, buffoonish authority figures, bad guys who aren’t threatening beyond their ponytail fetish, and a soundtrack that clearly wants you to be having a good time. But a somewhat weak plot and not enough comedy got it steamrolled in theaters.

Imperfect as it may be, Men at Work is kind of a fun time. Kind of. I’ll hang with Sheen and Estevez if they’re going to play best friends who work as garbage men who have aspirations of owning a surf shop. They goof on their rivals at work, evade the local bicycle cops, and get saddled with their boss’ brother (played by the ever-excellent Keith David). Sure, it’s not a comedy goldmine, but this trio is professional enough to make it work even so.

Things get hairy for James (Estevez), Carl (Sheen), and Louis (David) when they discover a mayoral candidate on their route — very much murdered and stuffed into a 55-gallon drum. Afraid for extremely tenuous reasons that Carl might be implicated (because he once shot the guy in the butt with a pellet gun), the three abscond with the body instead of reporting it to the authorities. So they Weekend at Bernie’s it for a while as they try to figure out what to do. This involves, as such things do, colorful bumbling villains, a newfound love interest, and some key evidence (in this case, a cassette tape).

Men at Work is the type of comedy people tend to describe at “light-hearted” or “amusing” because it’s the nicest thing you can say about a film that has a humorous tone but never makes anyone actually laugh out loud. It needed to go a little more to really succeed: A little more dark, a little more absurd, a little more ruthless, or a little more slapsticky. It’s got moments, though. I do like the rivalry with the other garbage men and how low-key psychotic Louis is, especially when he impulsively kidnaps the pizza guy. And there are these goofy little moments where characters have paranoid hallucinations for no good reasons.

It took me a little while to get into the vibe of this movie, but yeah, Men at Work is the real deal. It’s the brand of quirky, implausible comedy adventure that wins me over in the end despite its flaws. And I was won over — and a little miffed that it’s taken me this long to experience it.

Didja notice?

  • Fishes love to frolic among cannisters of toxic waste
  • When a character says “I’m not afraid of you any more” they have just seconds to live
  • Sleeping on the beach never looks fun
  • If you’re being a peeping tom, maybe don’t have the lights on in your apartment so everyone can see you doing it? Or when you murder people?
  • Those are some comically oversized airbags
  • “Golf clap?” “Golf clap.”
  • Wearing wet suits under your work clothes cannot be comfortable
  • Charlie Sheen’s unfortunate mini-90s ponytail
  • “Butt shot!”
  • It’s rather easy to stuff a human corpse into a 55-gallon drum
  • I like his little sketches
  • “It’s a dead human being, James.”
  • “Somebody threw away a perfectly good white boy.”
  • That’s a whole lot of contaminating a crime scene by manhandling a corpse
  • “WORK IT! WORK IT!” I want this song.
  • “That stiff’s starting to get a little bit gamey.”
  • Dress your corpses up with a Richard Nixon mask, why not!
  • “What’s going on here.” “Mind your own business, son.”
  • These bad guys have no compunctions against constant murder
  • Everyone having weird little hallucinations
  • “The pizza clown goes with us! I’ll get Tricky Dick!”
  • In 1990, you had to explain what a taser was
  • The bad guy tasing the other bad guy was pretty good effects
  • I like how he waited for a third slap
  • Set the cops free or steal their car? That’s a no-brainer.
  • This movie REALLY loves stuffing people in oil drums
  • Worst fake cops ever
  • Pizza guy is pretty amazing by the end of the film

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s