It’s too easy to hate Chris Elliott, that oblivious man-child with an invisible ”Kick Me” sign on his butt. And it takes a certain kind of courage to see beyond his sheer weirdness and recognize the creepy genius underneath.
Take, for starters, his cameos during the early years of Late Night With David Letterman, where he would shout insults as the crazy Man From Under the Seats. And later, on his undervalued Fox sitcom Get a Life, Elliott’s self-deprecating idiocy won him a loyal cult following. It wasn’t big enough, however, to keep a show about a clueless, fully grown paperboy from going off the air.
After playing small, straight parts in The Abyss and Manhunter, he got his first major film role in the gangsta rap spoof CB4. Elliott is perfectly at home as a weenie documentary filmmaker chronicling a hip-hop group. Aptly named A. White, he delivers enthusiastic white-bread lines like ”It’s my first drive-by” that distinguish this tired collection of ”your mother” jokes.
In Groundhog Day, Elliott benefits from better material and better actors. While the real relationship is between Bill Murray’s jaded TV weatherman and the sensitive producer Rita (Andie MacDowell), Elliott, as Larry the cameraman, steals the laughs whenever he’s in the frame, showing the same loser narcissism with which he occasionally stole Late Night’s dog and pony show from Letterman.
But then someone got the idea that he could carry a movie. The result, Cabin Boy, should have been Yuks Ahoy but is simply a seafaring mess. Elliott plays Nathanial Mayweather, a fancy lad fresh out of finishing school who mistakenly boards a ship full of liquored-up, abusive fishermen. After a cameo by a cigar-chomping Letterman, it’s all downhill (and we’re only 10 minutes into the film). The remainder plays out like an endless surreal dream sequence from Get a Life and smells worse than a ripe bucket of chum. Cabin Boy: D+