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Men at Work (1990)

Starring Charlie Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Leslie Hope, Keith David, Dean Cameron, John Getz, Hawk Wolinski, John Lavachielli, Geoffrey Blake, Cameron Dye

Directed by Emilio Estevez

Expectations: Super low.

While watching Weekend at Bernie’s, my girlfriend commented that the film made her think of Men at Work, and that she would like to see it again. I had never seen it, so I quickly acquired it for review. Now having seen it, I can clearly see why Weekend at Bernie’s brought it to mind. For a good portion of the film, Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen and Keith David are carrying around a dead man. And in one scene, they even pretend he’s alive and move his limbs for him to fool someone! As the two films came out in close proximity to each other (about a year separated them), I have to imagine Men at Work was in production long before Bernie’s dropped, but I can imagine Estevez’s despair at the success of the “other movie that features a couple of schlubs carting around a dead man.” I’m sure he thought he had the corner on that darkly comic market when he was crafting this script.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Men at Work is about two garbage men who get unknowingly mixed up in a web of illegal dumping and must “take out the trash,” where the trash is a greedy business owner dumping chemicals into the ocean. When said asshole kills the one man with evidence against him, instead of entrusting the disposal of the body to two fantastic assassins, he gives the job to a couple of ’80s nincompoops that bungle the job accordingly. That’s not our heroes, though, they’re the guys that find the body in the morning while collecting the trash. Thing is, due to some strange circumstances they know who the guy is, and don’t wish to reveal his death to the police.

Yeah, it’s kind of a complicated plot for a simple comedy of errors, but whatever, it’s the ’80s… I mean the early ’90s, so anything flew for a plot in those days. Filmmakers were once carefree to shoot whatever the fuck their little artistic hearts desired, and we were there to reap the benefits. In Men at Work the intrigue actually makes for quite an enjoyable little movie, with its twists and turns skillfully intersecting and joining up in fun ways. The only problem is that about halfway through the film, all that ends and the rest of the film is a non-stop parade of nonsense. While that might sound fun (and parts of it are), it doesn’t do justice to anything built up in the first half and leaves you wondering how much longer we will have to endure this.

Emilio and Charlie perform well, but it’s the introduction of Keith David’s character that takes the film to the next level. I’m a big Keith David fan so perhaps I’m biased, but I loved him in this. He’s perfect as the ex-military guy who’s doing a ride-along to make sure our heroes don’t bang anymore trash can lids. No, I’m not making that up. As the guys are leaving Garbage HQ, their barking police garbage chief informs them they’re through if they don’t stop their trashy antics. To make sure they stay in line, he sends out Keith David, and the rest is history.

Men at Work is far from a good film, but it does pack in a lot of comedy and entertainment. Part Rear Window, part Lethal Weapon, part Weekend at Bernie’s, the first half is actually very good, but it falls off fast into oblivion, never to return. Emilio Estevez also wrote and directed the film, so the blame is all his. I will say that it is a very handsome picture, and very well-shot. Not Kubrick quality or anything truly masterful, but good, interesting and better-than-average filmmaking. It’s definitely a better movie than that god awful Oscar-bait movie he did a few years ago, Bobby. I hated that one.

If nothing else, it was good to see another movie try the Bernie’s routine, even if it was only for a moment, and I can’t forget the part at the end when the pizza man puts a tire over a dude’s body and rolls him down the beach. I haven’t seen a good “tire put on a man” gag in a while. If I could come up with enough movies where that happens, I think that would be a great topic for a Top 10 list, don’t you?

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