Imagine living in the shadow of a tragic comic genius like John Belushi. Brother Jim has had a hard road- he has his own style of comedy, sadly underutilized. Here’s one of his minor gems, starring another underappreciated comic actor, Jack Ritter- who after years of slumming in the daytime sitcom ghetto on “Three’s Company,” never managed to make great success. Put them together and you’d expect a train wreck, but Real Men is an enjoyable ’80s comedy that tries to mash up Repo Man and The In-Laws, and achieves moderate success, much like its leads.
The story begins when an agent is killed trying to deliver a map to the CIA; the agency is forced to call in its greatest operator, the rogue loose cannon known as Nick Pirindello (Belushi). This shadowy super-agent works undercover as a butcher in a meat market, and when they send a flunky to get him on the job, he fucks around with him. Belushi’s dark sense of humor, with its constant veiled threat of violence, works well here. His brother’s wiggly eyebrows had their own great power, but Jim’s always look menacing. He puts them to good use here.
The agency has found a lookalike for the killed agent, and they want Nick to recruit him as a decoy to trick the Russians into thinking he’s still alive. This dead ringer turns out to be milquetoast Bob Wilson (Ritter), who we meet when he tries to get back his kid’s stolen bicycle from the neighborhood toughs. Needless to say, he gets pushed into a pile of packing peanuts and leaves with his tail between his legs and his dignity as soiled as a pair of drunken cheerleader’s panties on a frat room floor. But we get the feeling we’ll be seeing these goons get their comeuppance.
Nick braces Bob that evening, trying to recruit him by appealing to his patriotism. Nick’s problem is his sincerity; he comes off as sort of crazy… so he ends up having to force him at gunpoint. Thankfully the Russians attack with machine guns and rocket launchers, which is all the convincing Bob needs. He gets to see what a crack shot Nick is- one of the running jokes is that he never misses, while the bad guys exhibit Stormtrooper levels of inaccuracy- and accidentally saves Nick’s life while trying to escape. Thus is born a bond between men that will never be broken. Well, at least until pussy is involved.
Soon they are on the run, giving this spy comedy the road movie formula it needs to keep moving. As they rest after fending off more Russians, Bob wants to know what this is all about. Nick explains that the map leads to a meeting spot, where we will rendezvous with the aliens, who are offering a gun big enough to destroy the planet. Bob scoffs, so Nick shows him the gift the aliens gave him, a ballpoint pen. When Bob continues to scoff, Nick shows him the pen’s power by nailing it through a baseball. Bob says he’s seen a pen do that on an “As Seen on TV” commercial, so Nick has to whip out the big guns. He activates the pen one last time, and it sprouts a little satellite dish, hovers in mid-air, and zips off into the cosmos.
“That was a once in a lifetime souvenir. I hope they don’t think I didn’t like the pen.” Belushi’s blase attitude is the low buzz of comedic energy throughout the film, occasionally spiking when Ritter is allowed off his leash to perform some crazy antics. When they are being shot at yet again, Nick tells him “do what I do!” so he obediently runs around shooting at people with his finger. Coincidentally, he aims at the same people Nick is, and begins thinking his finger has been gifted magical powers. Sure it’s silly, but this is also a movie where they get attacked by a crack unit of CIA turncoats in clown suits. Sometimes the jokes aim high and fall flat; for example, one-off gag about how the CIA communicates through supermarket tabloids like Weekly World News is wasted, but we have to see them actually fight clowns in an alleyway.
Another throwaway gag is when Nick takes Bob home to Mom to hide out for a while. His Dad turns out to be a transsexual who has the hots for Bob, and it’s pretty disturbing until you realize “Dad” is being played by Dyanne Thorne– Ilsa of the infamous grindhouse classics She-Wolf of the S.S. and Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks. It was her last film, and she certainly looks the worse for wear. Just when you think the film won’t get any sillier, they win a gunfight by default when the Russians break for lunch. Since they don’t get paid, they’re not as hard working as we are.
The movie really shines at the end, when they meet the aliens. That scene is handled just perfectly. Sure, there are a lot of callbacks to earlier mentions in the script, but it wraps things up nicely, and helps cement the absurd tone of the movie. Bob learns to have a spine after defeating Soviet spies and conducting alien diplomacy; getting his kid’s bike back should be a piece of cake. And hey, he got a free pen.
So is it worth watching? It’s sort of like Spies Like Us, one of my guilty pleasures; Dan Ackroyd and Chevy Chase at a lower point in their careers, it’s actually pretty funny most of the time. Real Men has second-tier comedic actors in it, so it can only manage so much. I’ve always liked Jim Belushi and John Ritter, but it’s hard for them to carry a whole film. Late night on cable, this might not be a bad trip through ’80s nostalgia, when goofy spy plots like this were expected. It’s in the same vein as The Private Eyes– sort of corny, mostly family friendly, though Nick the spy does have a way with the ladies.
Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today? It’s a time-honored formula. Sure.
Quotability Rating: Nil
Cheese Factor: Velveeta
High Points: “Here. Have a pen.”
Low Point: Clowns
Gratuitous Boobies: None, but Ilsa and Soviet dominatrix appear.