DEUCE BIGALOW: EUROPEAN GIGOLO
starring Rob Schneider, Eddie Griffin, Til Schweiger, Jeroen Krabbé
screenplay by Rob Schneider and David Garrett & Jason Ward
directed by Mike Bigelow
directed by Henry Alex Rubin & Dana Adam Shapiro
directed by Paul Provenza & Penn Jillette
by Walter Chaw Oftentimes, as if in a freaky mescaline dream, I find myself defending in polite company Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, this story of an astonishingly ugly, balding little troll enlisted into the man-whore trade by myopic pimp T.J. (Eddie Griffin). Homophobic in a chiding, self-deprecating way, the picture has going for it a surprising tenderness that sees Deuce (Rob Schneider) demonstrating real humanity towards his disabled clients--finding him, for instance, taking a Tourette's Syndrome-stricken young lady to a ballgame, where her outbursts are cause for celebration. It also found Griffin, with his astonishing arsenal of insane euphemisms (twat-sicle, mangina, she-nis, he-pussy, and so on) delivered rat-a-tat with his manic, immaculate comic timing, crafting in frenetic T.J. a character with a penchant for savouring water-logged food and capped teeth that predict Hilary Duff's recent funhouse makeover. But most importantly, it had the benefit of Kate (Arija Bareikis) as Deuce's love interest: a beautiful, feminine, smart, funny woman who happens to be missing a leg. Disability is rarely, if ever, proudly on display in American cinema--funny to find it in Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.
Too bad that its sequel, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (hereafter Deuce 2) jettisons the sweetness of the original in favour of the usual barrage of cruelty, gross-outs, homophobia, and easy racism. Its laughs are of the cheap variety (the best coming when a cat attacks T.J.'s balls) and the punchlines feel truncated, somehow, as though director Mike Bigelow (no relation) was born without either rhythm or a sense of humour. He compensates by packing every second of the picture with a scatological joke or, better, an indecipherable euphemism ("Portuguese Breakfast", "Sneaking into Cuba"), the endlessness of said tactic resulting in at least a few helpless Mel Brooks chortles. You listen to Top 40 radio long enough and you start to like everything.
A rash of prosti-dude murders committed by a hulking she-john (a tribute to the drag-tastic Dressed to Kill sneaks in there under the radar) sends Deuce on a mission to Amsterdam to clear the name of his beloved pimp. Meanwhile, Deuce romances OCD Eva (the stupid-beautiful Hanna Verboom: think "younger Heidi Klum"), a character who provides the film with the last sad push across the finish line and, consequently, a fair amount of unfunny fantasy concerning how disability renders someone desperate enough to date Rob Schneider. But despite the contortions undertaken to cram a narrative skeleton into its crass flesh, Deuce 2 is locker-room brinkmanship without any sort of real connective tissue: just a tin man riffing on dick size and bodily fluids.
Speaking of disability in a positive light, consider the case of Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro's Murderball, a tale of the national quadriplegic rugby team as they love, squabble, drink, bust balls, and love again in the violent world of full-contact wheelchair sports, Mad Max-style. Though it takes the welcome tactic that guys in chairs are as brutal, foul, and unpleasant as the "normals," it does so at the expense of any sort of recognition of difference. It's a delicate line to walk, for sure, but mocking people for noticing that a person is disabled is akin (in only the most surface of ways, admittedly) to mocking people for noticing the colour of a person's skin. Not noticing is insanity. An educational video on sex after paralysis plays as ironic counterpoint to the boisterous boasts of über-crip Mark Zupan, the most gifted member of the dominating American team and the most outspoken against former compatriot Joe Soares, who, abandoned by his mates for being an asshole, coaches the hated Canadian team to victory over the Yanks in 2002. Glimpses of a more affecting documentary surface now in a look at Christopher Igoe, the former best friend responsible for Zupan's condition, and again in the relationship between Soares and his sensitive boy Robert--and for what's there, Murderball earns a recommendation. But Rubin and Shapiro seem more interested in cranking up the underdog sports intrigue and mindless flag-waving patriotism, instincts that prove ironic in their implicit condescension.
And speaking of brinkmanship, Paul Provenza's The Aristocrats essays a "legendary" dirty joke that has a basic set-up (a performing family's audition for a talent agent) and a pedestrian punchline ("What do you call yourselves?" "The Aristocrats!") but a blank slate in the middle ready for various comedians (over 100 in the film) to fill in with all manner of atrocity. A glimpse into the psyches of the individuals and the lengths to which we've become desensitized to vulgarity, the picture is, alas, extraordinarily obvious and extraordinarily boring. It's a lot like co-culprit Penn Jillette's Showtime show "Bullshit!" in that the subjects are broad, the treatment is broad, and the humour, such as it is, is wholly reliant on your affection for volume, repetition, and the individuals involved. But unless you're easily shocked, there's only so much novelty to be mined from Bob Saget, Paul Reiser, and Jason Alexander going blue while Jillette and Provenza roll around in mirth behind the camera. It's smug and self-satisfied in a way the "shit" episode of "South Park" never was while breaking many of the same taboos--an arthouse Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo that hides its essential emptiness behind a pop analysis of the gag. It's so smug and self-satisfied, in fact, that you wonder if the joke isn't ultimately on you and me. If The Aristocrats only cements my irrational crush on Sarah Silverman, well, that's my own personal cross to bear. Originally published: August 12, 2005.