Artisan // 2001 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rankins (Retired) // December 13th, 2002
They came. They saw. They screwed things up.
Here's an experiment you can try at home:
Start with a bottle of root beer -- no need to splurge for the good stuff; your local supermarket's house brand will do. Uncap the bottle and leave it on your kitchen counter for one week. Pour the flat, tepid root beer into a blender. Add a half-cup of rock salt, a half-cup of bacon grease, and two tablespoons of charcoal ashes scraped from the bottom of your hibachi. Whip until frothy. Pour into a tall glass. Drink deeply.
Congratulations. You have just replicated the experience of watching The Shipment.
Bad gringo dudes hire José Garcia (Paul Rodriguez, Rough Magic) to smuggle two million dollars' worth of vigoroso (a bootleg Mexican pharmaceutical that mimics the effects of Viagra) across the U.S. border into Arizona. That is, the bad dudes were going to hire José until La Policia arrived and the scene erupted into a restaging of the climax of Bonnie and Clyde. When the gunsmoke clears, José is the last man standing, alone with a truckload of contraband whoopee drugs he plans to sneak into the States using a methodology that cannot be described in detail on a PG-13-rated website. (Suffice it to say the plan involves using cattle as mules, and not in the Missouri sense of the word, either.)
Fortunately for José, New York senatorial candidate Eddie Colucci (Nicholas Turturro, swearing this is the last time he solicits career advice from former NYPD Blue co-star David Caruso) needs an infusion of cash for his foundering campaign. It seems Eddie's image with Empire State voters isn't all that favorable, which is not surprising to anyone except Eddie, who's Mobbed up like Vegas before Howard Hughes hit town. As it happens, though, the wise guys in the employ of Eddie's Uncle Frank (Robert Loggia, gnawing scenery like a rabid beaver) -- who was exiled to the desert for embarrassing the famiglia -- have caught wind of José's accidental bounty. Together, the crooks devise a scheme to seize and sell the shipment of vigoroso and use the proceeds to invigorate Eddie's political coffers.
The obstacles to the venture's success are threefold: Mitch Garrett (Matthew Modine, in a role that could pull the plug on the respirator currently keeping his fading movie career alive), the newly elected sheriff of Paradise, Arizona, through which José and his illegal cargo must pass; Eddie's trailer-park-escapee bride Candy (Elizabeth Berkley, under a scarlet dye job only slightly less convincing than Kirsten Dunst's wig in Spider-Man), who also happens -- by a coincidence as likely as a winning Powerball ticket -- to be Mitch's ex-girlfriend; and the gangsters to whom Eddie and Uncle Frank are connected, who have their own designs on the shipment.
Words fail to adequately express how rank a bucket of celluloid cowflop The Shipment is. Sometimes a bad movie will hold the viewer's attention by offering just enough entertainment value to suggest that it may improve if one keeps watching. Not this time. Not only is The Shipment vapid, stupid, insipid, and several other words ending in "-pid," but not a single frame in it threatens anything except more vapidity, stupidity, and insipidity.
It's not that crude humor, in and of itself, is the problem. No one appreciates Mel Brooks's better films more than this writer, and Brooks revels in crude humor. But crudeness without humor is just, well, crude, and The Shipment defines those terms. Nothing in this movie is funny. At all. Most of it, in fact, is agonizingly unfunny.
As an example: this isn't the first comedy (and I use the word loosely) to feature a prominent character with a bestiality fetish. Woody Allen fashioned a genuinely hilarious (if disquieting) sequence out of Gene Wilder's sheep-obsessed physician in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex. But The Shipment serves up a character who's not just fantasizing about carnal bliss with the lower orders -- we actually look on aghast as he engages in the act onscreen, with a bovine partner. And this certainly isn't the first comedy to use as its stock in trade the kind of lowbrow ethnic stereotypes one might have presumed were dead and buried in the "enlightened" Hollywood of today -- Brooks used them with gusto in The Producers and Blazing Saddles. But the caricatures in The Shipment have no redeeming satiric or ironic quality; they're simply offensive. My heritage isn't Italian-American, Mexican-American, or rural-white-folks-American, but I was appalled on behalf of all of the foregoing for the manner in which they're slandered here.
Which begs the question: How did the filmmakers shanghai this many recognizable actors into such a debacle? Matthew Modine's career never fulfilled the promise of his early roles in Vision Quest and Full Metal Jacket, but he's carved out a creditable niche over the past decade with solid performances in high-profile TV movies (And the Band Played On, Jack And The Beanstalk: The Real Story, What the Deaf Man Heard, and most notably, Flowers for Algernon, in which Modine reprised Cliff Robertson's Oscar-winning turn in Charly). What possessed him to sign on for this exercise in public humiliation? And what about Modine's co-stars? Did Robert Loggia, or Nicholas Turturro, need a payday this desperately? Did Elizabeth Berkley and Paul Rodriguez really need...on second thought, let me rephrase.
No one onscreen appears the least bit pleased to be on the set. Modine, usually engaging in an aw-shucks sort of way, is haggard and humorless. Berkley looks as though she neither ate nor slept during the entire shoot, with her dark-circled eyes, gaunt frame, and hollow cheeks. Turturro and Loggia, competent actors who can shine with the right material, grimace through their dialogue like men in serious need of laxative relief. Rodriguez is even more noxious than usual, which itself may be a backhanded accomplishment.
I get the feeling director Alex Wright (whose most notable previous effort was a weak and pointless pseudo-prequel to 9 1/2 Weeks) wanted to recapture the flavor of the good ol' boy comedies popular in the 1970s and early 1980s -- Smokey and the Bandit and the like. Indeed, I can almost envision The Shipment as it might have been done in that more innocent era, with Jerry Reed in the Matthew Modine role (I was tempted to say Burt Reynolds, but even Burt's worst movies -- Stroker Ace, anyone? -- were immeasurably better than this) and, say, Claudia Jennings substituting for Elizabeth Berkley. But those old trucker flicks generally had a playful, sunny nature that is utterly absent from The Shipment, replaced by vulgar mean-spiritedness. Screenwriter Richard Steen (who used to write for Roseanne Barr, and it shows) apparently thinks profanity is inherently funny -- unlike a David Mamet, who often uses scabrous language as an insight into character, or a Richard Pryor, who employed it to reflect a subculture he couldn't illuminate accurately any other way -- so he fills his script with expletives, whether it benefits from them or not. (That I'm even mentioning Steen in the same breath with such geniuses as Mamet and Pryor is testimony to the multitude of brain cells snuffed out during the viewing of The Shipment.)
At this point, I could wax philosophical about the DVD itself, but anyone who would actually enjoy this submediocre trash will care not one whit about the quality of the presentation. In short: full-frame transfer, in decent shape; unremarkable stereo soundtrack; bargain-basement production values; no extras aside from a poorly-patchworked made-for-the-DVD trailer. This latter point, usually a significant negative factor in rendering a Verdict, is in this rare instance the cause of much rejoicing. It means the Judge didn't have to spend any more time with this disc than absolutely necessary. Spanish subtitles are included, so viewers of Latin extraction can feel demeaned in two languages.
I'd like to be able to affirm that no actual cows were subjected to molestation during the making of The Shipment. However, given the depths to which this movie sinks, I'm not certain such an affirmation would be accurate.
Nasty, and not in a good way. Inept and insulting. You have better things to do than watch The Shipment. I can say that with confidence, and I don't even know you.
The Shipment and all parties pertaining thereto are summarily banished to permanent manure-shoveling detail on the largest available cattle ranch in Arizona. Court is dismissed. I'll leave the shower running when I'm through.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R