Psst. If you can keep it a secret, I can now reveal some of what really
happened just before the infamous Bay of Pigs. I found out the inside story
at COMPANY MAN, an over-the-top comedy that is so intentionally "bad," it's
hilarious. Think of it as the movie that BATTLEFIELD EARTH should have
been. Or, perhaps more aptly, think of it as a history lesson in the
deliciously wacky AIRPLANE! style.
Whatever it is, the movie, jointly written and directed by Douglas McGrath
(EMMA) and Peter Askin, will have you laughing loudly and often. More
sophisticated viewers will undoubtedly engage in a bit of revisionist
history afterwards as some critics did at our screening, claiming that it
was actually a terrible movie and that their laughs were merely those of
derision. If a comedy rates high on my laugh-o-meter, that's enough for me.
I don't care what devious means it employees to produce the guffaws.
As the story opens in 1962, the worlds most pedantic grammarian, Allen Quimp
(McGrath), is testifying behind closed doors to a select congressional
committee led by an incredulous senator (Jeffrey Jones from FERRIS BUELLER'S
DAY OFF). Congress wants to know how an English and Driver's Ed teacher was
sent to Cuba as an undercover agent for the CIA. (Remember, you're sworn to
Although Allen is the author of the 854-page book modestly titled, "The
Grammar Crisis in the English Speaking World," he needs something else to
impress his relatives, which include a Nobel Prize winner and an astronaut,
so he decides to be a "company man" at the CIA. Since he "knows a little
Russian" -- not the language but a small Russian man -- he figures that he
is the right guy for the CIA. The Russian turns out to be none other than
world-renowned Russian ballerina Rudolph Petrov (Ryan Phillippe), who tells
Allen, "I wish to defecate -- I mean defect."
Allen ends up being inducted into the CIA and shipped off to an obscure,
third world island, Cuba, where his superiors figure that there is no chance
that he could get into any trouble. Once there, his obsession with perfect
syntax and semantics drives fellow agent Fry (Denis Leary) nuts. "There's
no use in winning the war against Communism if we lose the war against the
double negative," Allen admonishes Fry. About to go stark raving mad, Fry
tells him, "I've only said one sentence since you arrived, and you've been
correcting it ever since."
Indicative of the wild level of the comedy is the casting of Woody Allen as
the CIA station chief. The producers managed to find a cryogenically frozen
Woody from his wonderfully crazy, early comedies like BANANAS and defrost
him. No signs of the angst-filled later Woody are present.
Also along for the ride is Sigourney Weaver, showing off the comedic talent
that she displayed as the computer operator in GALAXY QUEST. This time she
plays Daisy Quimp, the agent's wife, who is planning on getting rich by
writing a book about their time in the CIA. When Fidel Castro (Anthony
LaPaglia) starts his revolution against General Batista (Alan Cumming), she
wants her husband to overthrow the revolution in "the most readable way
possible." The superlative cast for COMPANY MAN never seems to stop. I
half expected Tom Cruise to pop by the set for a cameo. Everybody else
seems to have dropped by.
The press kit details some of the actual failed attempts by the CIA against
Castro. The writers use variations on them in the script. My personal
favorite involves a scheme in the movie to spike Castro's shampoo in order
to "defoliate his face." Nothing like a defoliated face to demoralize a
COMPANY MAN runs a fast 1:35. It is rated PG-13 for brief sexual humor and
drug content, but it is so mild that it's basically PG. With the exception
of one ribald scene during the ending credits, the film would be acceptable
for almost all kids, but kids probably need to be 11 or 12 to be able to
appreciate the film's humor.
Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes