Sometimes certain pairings seem to be perfect matches for comedy, ideas of the “why didn’t anyone think of this before?” variety. Martin Short and Kurt Russell form one such pairing, where the potential for humor is obvious as soon as it’s stated. Director Thom Eberhardt took the helm for just that, with 1992’s Captain Ron.
Short is good, Russell is great. Eberhardt… not so much. It’s telling that this somewhat-obscure comedy is his most notable directorial work, at least from what I recognized on his IMDb listing. Having just finished watching the film, I find myself wondering what it might have been like if it had been directed by Rob Reiner, or John Hughes, or Ivan Reitman, and so on. Because under the right hands, this decent film looks like it could have been a hilarious film. As it is, it’s just all right.
Martin Short plays Martin Harvey, a Chicago businessman with a wife and two kids. When he arrives at work one day, he’s presented with a special delivery, which turns out to be a will from his long-lost uncle. He’s been left a boat once owned by Clark Gable, which may be worth as much as a quarter-million dollars. He heads back home to break the news to his wife Katherine (Mary Kay Place). He immediately hatches a plan to fly down to the island nation it’s docked in, and sail it themselves to Florida so they can sell it, and provide themselves with a family adventure as well. Their son Ben (Benjamin Salisbury) is excited about owning a boat, but Katherine is reluctant, concerned about taking time off from work and school. She is sold on the idea when their 16-year-old daughter Caroline (Meadow Sisto) comes home and announces she’s become engaged to her punk boyfriend. Getting her out of there quickly, they head down to “San Pomme” to see their boat and hire a captain.
She’s a beaut, isn’t she?
Things naturally start to go awry at this point. The ship hasn’t been kept up in years, and needs both cosmetic and functional repairs. And then the captain they’ve hired arrives… Captain Ron (Russell). He’s uncouth. He drinks constantly… and shares with Ben. He seems unable to call anybody by their given name (the closest he gets is calling Katherine “Kitty”). He’s clumsy, and he doesn’t think things through. But, give him credit, he knows how to handle a boat, as long as he remembers details like where the islands actually are. And pretty soon he’s driving Martin crazy, charming his family, and leading the Harveys on a directionless adventure filled with storms, revolutionaries, and pirates.
Martin’s hopes of relaxation aren’t the only things that are sinking fast.
Kurt Russell, who at this point already had 27 years of acting experience, is in top form as Captain Ron. He never breaks character for a second, and is thoroughly convincing as a well-meaning slob. His accent — sort of a drunken surfer dude voice — is maintained perfectly, and his delivery of his lines is great. Martin Short is pretty good as the straight man, able to show his character as getting increasingly perturbed just with his facial expressions, and without resorting to exaggerated delivery. Mary Kay Place is charming as Katherine, and while the kids don’t set the world on fire with their acting, they’re about as good as child actors usually are.
Monopoly for money with a guerrilla general. You can’t say the kid’s not getting an education.
The problem, and I almost hate to bring it up because this is a fun movie, is the script and the directing. There are a lot of funny bits in the film, but they’re like vignettes, they don’t build on each other the way some of the gags in the really great comedies do. And while Russell and Short both have solid comedic timing, it seems like the movie itself doesn’t; while some gags are played out perfectly (such as the car gag pictured above), others seem to take just a little too long or lack the proper set up to really drive them home. They’re consistently worth a smile, but not a belly laugh. And I think the film would have been helped immensely if there had been more scenes in which Russell and Short shared dialogue; usually, it’s Captain Ron talking with Martin’s wife or kids, while Martin watches and fumes, but the funniest character bits are generally between the two male leads. It also would have helped sell the irritation on Martin Harvey’s part; it’s difficult to reconcile the apparent fussiness of Martin as the film goes on as being the same character who spontaneously decided to take his family on a sailing adventure. The timing and delivery of the script itself is a big factor there, because most of the really outrageous events were due to Martin’s screw-ups, not Ron’s… leaving the audience to wonder just why Martin is so annoyed.
Still, I had fun watching the film, and would happily watch it again. Captain Ron, the film, is a lot like Captain Ron, the character. Captain Ron is rough around the edges, clumsy, and lacks depth perception (he has a glass eye). Similarly, Captain Ron is unpolished, a bit awkward, and isn’t particularly deep. But just like Russell’s character, Captain Ron is charming in its own disheveled way, and is worth a look.