Judge Gordon Sullivan thinks it unlikely that Bait Shop will hook anyone.
Billy Ray Cyrus has pulled off one of the weirder pop-culture resurrections in recent years (perhaps only topped by the return of Flava Flav). He went from cowboy one-hit wonder cum sex symbol to slightly unhip father of teen sensation Miley Cyrus (a.k.a. Hannah Montana). His reincarnation has a built-in shtick which casts him as the bumbling but sympathetic guy who tries to be cool and doesn't get away with it. It's actually a brilliant way to simultaneously acknowledge and dismiss his former status as a chart-topping sex symbol. In Bait Shop, Cyrus continues in a similar vein, taking his arch character into villain territory. His foil this time out is standup comedian Bill Engvall (of Blue Collar Comedy Tour fame). Together these two cast off in a tepid comedy that mines familiar sports rivalry territory.
Facts of the Case
Bill Dugan (Bill Engvall, The Blue Collar Comedy Tour) is passionate old-school bass fisherman who runs a lackluster bait shop on Paradise Lake. Money's a little tight, but he's holding on. That is until a $15,000 "balloon payment" comes due on his mortgage. Because of his poor financial skills, his father-in-law is constantly trying to get him to sell the shop and work for him selling mattresses. Matters get worse when high-tech (and very popular) fisherman Randy "Hot Rod" Johnson (Billy Ray Cyrus, Mulholland Dr.) decides to open a bait shop across the dock from Bill. The only way Bill can keep his shop is to win $50,000 in the upcoming Paradise Lake Invitational Tournament. It's going to take all his skills (and friends) to defeat Hot Rod and take home the cash.
Bait Shop is exactly the kind of bland and inoffensive comedy that one expects from a PG-rated direct-to-video film featuring Bill Engvall and Billy Ray Cyrus. It plays almost exactly like a family sitcom. In fact, with a little editing of the ending, Bait Shop could easily fly as a long-form TV pilot. All the pieces are there: Bill Dugan is the lovable loser, Hot Rod Johnson makes a fine villain, and the bait shop regulars have the potential to be a decent comic chorus.
All that's fine, if it's your thing. For me, it just didn't work. Most of the jokes were tired (even by TV standards), and the ones that weren't just weren't that funny. The film sets its sights low and never once surprises the viewer. Like a Wonder bread sandwich, Bait Shop is filling but never satisfying. There's nothing wrong with the film per se, but it is so completely integrated into its genre that it has nothing new to offer.
If you've seen any sports film or any "rivalry" film, you know exactly how everything is going to turn out in the end. Everything from Bill's "balloon payment" to Hot Rod's final treachery is borrowed from other (sometimes better) films. Because these situations are so tired, the film needed to work extra hard to find the laughs. Putting Billy Engvall in a giant bass costume doesn't count.
Like the plot, the acting stays firmly in the sitcom style. Bill Engvall does hang-dog well, but I get the sense that the script didn't give him much else to do. His wife and son firmly stick to archetypes, while the shop regulars are all a little too over-the-top. To my surprise, Billy Ray Cyrus holds his own rather well. He manages to be a jerk well without completely losing the audience's sympathy (that is, until the ending). Of course he's not asked to do anything subtle, but it works for this film (I'm guessing his work with Hannah Montana prepared him well). The box claims this film as "the best cast ever." That claim is funnier than anything in the movie.
Like the film, the presentation of Bait Shop has nothing technically wrong with it. The anamorphic transfer lacks serious artifacts or noise. However, the whole film has a "flat" look to it (which contributes to the TV vibe). I suspect that the look has more to do with the budget of the film than the DVD. The audio gets it done, with effective balance and separation.
The extras aren't extensive, but they're sure to please fans of the film. We've got a pair of EPK-style featurettes that focus on the film's production plus some deleted scenes. The gag reel is better left unexplored. However, if you found the movie interesting, you'll probably enjoy the rest of the extras. None of them are essential, but they do the job.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you like bass fishing (or Bill Engvall or Billy Ray Cyrus) and need a comedy to watch with the family, Bait Shop is the way to go. It's more amusing than outright funny, but those with lowered expectations will probably not be disappointed.
The film is almost worth watching just to see Billy Joe Shaver. The grizzled Texas songwriter plays Bill's "Yoda," dispensing wisdom about fishing and finance. He brings more gravity and sincerity to his short appearances than the film deserves.
Finally, I've got to give credit to the film for not overstaying its welcome. Too many comedies try to pile on so many jokes that they just end up to long. Bait Shop, however, is less than 90 minutes with credits, so even if you don't enjoy it, the experience doesn't last long.
Bait Shop is one of those rare films that hangs in a critical middle: nothing about it is good enough to really recommend, but it's not so awful that it should be avoided. Fans of Billy Ray, Bill Engvall, bass fishing, or toned-down redneck comedy should probably give the film a rental. The presentation (and extras) by Lionsgate aren't going to win any awards, but this DVD delivers the goods.
Bait Shop is guilty of landing more bass than laughs.
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