Like just about all the comedies written, directed by and starring the members of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe, I wanted to like The Slammin' Salmon more than I did. Since their 2001 breakthrough, Super Troopers, the five-man comedy ensemble has been trying to replicate that same shaggy, laid-back cult success with tremendously uneven result; Beerfest came closest, and the less said about the 2004 horror spoof Club Dread the better. After playing at a number of festivals, their 2009 film The Slammin' Salmon (directed by Broken Lizard member Kevin Heffernan) failed to find wide theatrical distribution and ends up going straight to DVD. That may be more of a blessing than a curse, as the single-setting premise and small-scale laugh quotient will likely play better at home than on the big screen.
The Slammin' Salmon takes place in the span of a single night at a restaurant called -- what else? -- The Slammin' Salmon. It's named for former heavyweight champion boxer Cleon Salmon (Michael Clarke Duncan), who owes $20,000 to some nefarious types. To pay back his debts, he creates a contest at the restaurant: which ever server brings in the most money will win $10,000 at night's end. The wait staff is off and running, and in the course of one evening there will expensive diamond rings swallowed, faces burned (twice), a pantsless waiter named Zongo and a run-in with a horse. All in a night's work, I guess.
My problem with The Slammin' Salmon is the same problem I've had with just about all of Broken Lizard's work: they don't seem to be trying very hard. I like the relaxed vibe of their movies, which seem to be more about hanging out than really driving a story (part of the problem with Club Dread was that it made the mistake of trying to include a plot), but much of Salmon feels like the guys went ahead and shot the first draft of the script. The jokes are just too easy, ranging from juvenile wordplay (the movie tries to get laughs out of a dirty mispronunciation of the Greek name Metdrapedes) to gross-out bathroom humor of just about every kind. What's worse is that there's usually some pretty long lags between intended laugh lines, so that when the jokes finally come they're rarely worth the wait.
There are a few things to like about The Slammin' Salmon -- enough that I don't feel like I wasted my time, anyway. SNL's Will Forte (who appeared in Beerfest with Broken Lizard) has a nice recurring role as a customer who camps out to read War and Peace. Actually, the film is filled with cameos, from Vivica A. Fox to Olivia Munn to Jim Gaffigan (wasted in an unfunny role). Michael Clarke Duncan actually proves to be the movie's brightest spot; he's playing a standard-issue dumb tough guy, but his line readings are inventive enough that he makes you laugh in ways you don't see coming. The Slammin' Salmon could have used some for of this unpredictability. It's what helps keep comedy fresh.
The DVD of The Slammin' Salmon (it's also available on Blu-ray) comes with just a few bonus features that will be of interest strictly to the die-hard Broken Lizard fans. There's a brief featurette in which the members recount their early days, pre-success. There's also a pair of commentary tracks that run the length of the film. The Broken Lizard boys have split into two groups to record the tracks; on the first commentary is director and star Kevin Heffernan, joined by co-star Steve Lemme. On the second are the rest of the Broken Lizard crew: Jay Chandrasekhar, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske. Both commentaries are fun to listen to but still informative, and I often found myself enjoying both of them more than I enjoyed the film itself. Even casual fans of the film or of Broken Lizard should check them out.
- Release Date: 4/13/10
- Running Time: 90 minutes
- Rated R for pervasive language and sexual references
- 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
- Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
- English SDH, Spanish Subtitles
- Studio: Starz/Anchor Bay
DVD Bonus Features
- Audio commentary with Kevin Heffernan and Steve Lemme
- Audio commentary with Jay Chandrasekhar, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske
- "Hellish Kitchen: Art Imitates Life" Featurette