Early in The Slammin’ Salmon, the underachieving latest effort from the funsters in the Broken Lizard comedy troupe, a pretty-boy actor arranges for a waiter to hold onto his engagement ring so he can surprise his girlfriend by proposing during dinner. It doesn’t take a comedy scholar to figure out that the expensive bauble will have to endure a perilous journey through the gastrointestinal system of a restaurant employee before making it to the finger of the overjoyed, newly minted fiancée. Sure enough, after a restaurant manager consumes the ring, all that’s left is an interminable wait for a gag older than vaudeville to pay off. That’s The Slammin’ Salmon in brief: bad, groaningly predictable jokes limply executed. Of course, no one watches Broken Lizard movies for their Chinatown-like craftsmanship, rich characterization, philosophical richness, or tight plotting. They seek out movies like Super Troopers, Club Dread, and Beerfest for the kind of cheap laughs the sketch group has consistently delivered, until now.
Michael Clarke Duncan stars as a flashy former heavyweight champion notorious for his explosive temper and propensity for violence in and out of the ring. When Duncan runs into problems with the Yakuza, he angrily demands that the waitstaff of the restaurant he owns (Broken Lizard, Cobie Smulders, and April Bowlby) make $20,000 in a single night to keep his business from going under. As if the stakes weren’t high enough, halfway through the film, he offers a $10,000 reward to the server who brings in the most cash.
Instead of funny lines or clever gags, The Slammin’ Salmon gives its ensemble comical business and inane subplots, each more labored and unpromising than the last. An obscenely flexible waitress has a hard time playing off her teasing sexuality after getting scalded in the face with hot soup. An actor-waiter encounters the producer (Lance Henriksen) who fired him for getting a nose job, even though he was on a cop show where he played the butt of big-nose jokes. The klutzy new busboy is pushed into service as a waiter. A mentally ill waiter nicknamed “Nuts” adopts a bizarre alter ego after going off his meds. It’s tempting to blame the film’s paucity of laughs on the directorial shift from the reliable Jay Chandrasekhar to Kevin Heffernan, but the direction isn’t the problem. The pace is fast and zippy, but the clever gags and winning one-liners just aren’t there. Everything in The Slammin’ Salmon is pitched way too broad, as if the troupe figured they could breathe life into a tired script through energy alone. The film ends with outtakes of its cast cracking up over the end credits. At least someone got a good laugh out of this.
Key features: A featurette on the troupe’s background as waiters, and two audio commentaries.