1987, Starring Ben Gordon, Ron James, John Kozak, Wayne Robson, Cynthia Belliveau. Directed by Brad Turner.
Tired of the frat houses, high schools, ski resorts and police training schools that screwball comedies usually take place in? Well, Goofballs has an original ideawhat would happen if a bunch of zany characters were let loose at a golf resort? Oh, right... Caddyshack! Okay, well, this movie is totally different? Caddyshack is an ensemble comedy about a kid trying to earn college money, which ends in a golf tournament. Goofballs, on the other hand, is an ensemble comedy about a grown man trying to get rich quick, which ends in a... um, nevermind.
Although Canada is the home to legendary comedic talents, it's surprising how few comedies get made here. Goofballs (which came out in the same year as Caddyshack II), tries to do it right by getting together a group of home-grown comedians like Ben Gordon (from the 1970s CTV Hee-Haw rip-off Funny Farm), John Hemphill (SCTV, Maniac Mansion) and Ron James (Strange Brew, Blackfly, Ernest Rides Again). For fun they've even tossed in ENG's Cynthia Belliveau and Yuk Yuk's manger Mark Breslin, who unconvincingly plays the manager of a Yuk Yuk's.
As opposed to the majority of the "balls" films, Goofballs concentrates more on corny gags than nudity, and gets going with an over-wrought parody of gangster movies. Mob boss Mr Weasel and his thugs are breaking into the back of a fur storage facility when a cop car screams down the alley. Frightened, the getaway driver speeds off, leaving everyone caught red-handed. To indicate this scene is happening in the past, this portion of the film is filmed in black and white. Well, Sort of. Actually it's just kind of a weird washed out palette-- you can clearly see that the lights on the police cruiser are red! I realized after this that Goofballs tends to work much better if you ignore the finer details.
Anyways, that timid getaway driver was our main character, Josh Wheeler (Gordon). Josh now works as the manager of a golf course resort located in the Barbados. Well, Sort of. Actually, it's a carefully edited illusion, in which shots from a "Visit the Barbados!" travel video are spliced into scenes obviously shot in Toronto. But, that's another one of those finer details. Mr Weasel phones Josh and calls in a favour-- two cronies named Aldo (Hemphill) and Stick (John Kozak) need a place to stay until the heat dies down. They will be arriving at the resort tomorrow, and he wants Josh to take care of them.
Knowing it's an offer he can't refuse, Josh lies to the effeminate resort owner Ernesto, claiming the visitors are professional golf course raters. It could mean a big boom to the course, Josh tells him, and he asks if they can stage a golf tournament the next day to impress them. Organizing a tournament in one day seems a little far-fetched, but when Josh promises Ernesto that he can get lots of celebrities to show up, his starstruck boss agrees. Desperate, Josh calls up the only real celebrity he knows-- his nephew, failed comedian Stanley Lowe (James). Despite the fact that Mark Breslin specifically tells Stanley not to quit his day job in the next scene, Stan does just that after Uncle Josh calls and invites him down to the Barbados.
Time for a wacky subplot. Josh spies some Arabs who have docked their boat at the resort. The Arabs (who are actually white guys dressed like Sunday School Christmas pageant Josephs) are burying gold bars at the course for safe keeping. Makes sense to me. Josh decides that they have so much gold they won't notice if a few bars go missing, so he digs a couple up and hides them inside a large trophy in Ernesto's office meant for the golf tournament. Later, he breaks into the same office and ransacks it to convince Ernesto to let him take care of the trophy. But the Arabs know Josh has taken some of their gold, and Josh stupidly allows himself to be picked up at the resort bar by an Arabian girl who asks for the key to his office.
Meanwhile, Stanley arrives, as do Aldo and Stick with their girls Holly and Sarah. When Holly (Belliveau) takes an instant liking to Stanley, the bumbling gangsters get ticked off. Well, sort of. Actually, toothpick-chomping Stick is more interested in winning Josh's golf tournament, despite never having played before. To ensure success, Aldo buys a radio controlled "homing" golf ball ("It's called a goofball!" he informs us). Although we see surprisingly little golf for a screwball comedy set in a golf resort, Stick apparently cheats his way into a tie with the leader, forcing a sudden death playoff.
Meanwhile, the subplot has somehow turned itself into the main plot: After hiding the gold under the newspaper in his parrot's birdcage, Josh gives the trophy back to Ernesto. Just then, the Arabian woman leads her friends into Josh's office, and they take what's rightfully theirs. Sort of. Actually they can't find the gold, so they kidnap the parrot instead. Following Shaggy and Scooby Detective School guidelines, Stanley and Josh dress like Arabs and sneak aboard the boat to get Polly and the gold back. One of the Arabs, apparently doing an impression of Billy Van doing an impression of Peter Lorre, realizes it's Josh and there is a "wacky" golf cart chase through the middle of the 18th green, disrupting Stick's bid for golf glory. Stan and Josh slip on to a party boat in the bay, but the Arabs catch up to them and demand their gold back. Just when it looks like all is lost, Stick and Aldo show up to save the day.
So, is Goofballs funny? Well, sort of. As with most ensemble comedies, the laughs are decidedly uneven. Given some breathing room after his performance in the atrociously unfunny Pink Chiquitas, former SCTV writer and star John Hemphill steals every scene he's in as the soft-hearted gangster Aldo. But Ron James' self-deprecatory brand of humour doesn't work here, especially during a scene in which he is trying to trick Ernesto into thinking he's watching a Tom Jones performance (another tedious Goofballs running gag involves Josh making Ernesto think he "just missed" meeting a celebrity).
Okay, okay, the film may not be quite as cheap as I previously made out. The credits do in fact list a Barbados unit for Goofballs, and a few scenes with actors appear to be filmed at a real tropical resort. But for the most part, establishing footage of sun-drenched paradise is only seen in Miami Vice-like helicopter shots over beaches. This leads to quite a bit of mismatched footage, featuring palm trees in one shot, and evergreens in the next. But perhaps the funniest use of this trick has to be when we see the Arabs burying their gold on a gray day in a shallow Canadian creek, intercut with obvious stock close-ups of pink flamingos!
Fulfilling Screwball protocol, Ben Gordon is well suited to the slick shyster who always conquers insurmountable odds. But his passable performance can't compensate for the fact that Josh Wheeler is a downright annoying protagonist. Unlike most screwball comedies, the " wacky" situations Josh finds himself are almost always of his own complicated making. Why go through all the trouble of hiding the gold in Ernesto's office and then scrambling to get it out, when you just wanted to put it in your birdcage in the first place? Another scene has Josh retrieving Stanley from Holly's room disguised as a maid. Barring a proclivity for cross-dressing, why would he do this? There is no clear reason why Josh couldn't knock on the door and ask his friend to come out. Josh's convoluted antics quickly dry up any sympathy you might have had for the trouble he finds himself in. Soon you'll realize that the whole movie could have been averted if Josh had only told his boss that some friends, and not "golf course raters," were staying at the resort for a weekend and then let them tan on the beach for the remaining 80 minutes. It may not have been very funny, but it sure would have made a lot more sense.