Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexual Content including Dialogue, and for Language
Directed by: Gregory Poirier
Written by: Gregory Poirier
Starring: Jerry O’Connell, Shannon Elizabeth, Jake Busey, Horatio Sanz, Jaime Pressly, Bill Maher
After AMERICAN PIE became a huge hit, the only kind of comedies hitting wide release were mainly comprised of movies competing to top each other in the gross factor. The raunchier they got, the more people they seemed to flock to the movie theater. TOMCATS was unsurprisingly trashed by critics and made more than it’s budget back at the box office (making it a relative success in that respect). I am now faced with a challenge. Reviewing a bad comedy is one of the hardest tasks for a film critic. Humor is arguably one of the most subjective emotions that we have. This means that I will try my hardest to focus on plot, how it’s told, characters, and pretty much everything besides the actual jokes themselves.
The film is messy right from the get-go, because we begin with a scene that has the subtitle: “Seven Years Earlier.” The problem with this is that this is the first scene of the film. In order to have a flashback, the story needs something to flash back from. Given this already noticeable mistake, we are introduced to Mike (Jerry O’Connell, who sort of narrates the film here when it seems convenient). His motley crew of pals, known as the Tomcats, are at a friend’s wedding. Together they come up with a bet and throw money into a trust fund which will go to the last single man. Years pass and Mike really needs this money or he’ll be killed by a casino owner. In order to win the bet and the prize money, he’ll have to hook up the last remaining Tomcat. This would be Kyle (Jake Busey), a womanizing asshole of a guy. Mike hires an old flame, Natalie (Shannon Elizabeth), to tie the knot with this remaining Tomcat. Unfortunately for Mike, he begins to fall for Natalie as she’s legitimately falling for Kyle…
To get the elephant out of the room, I will address the humor first, before diving into the rest of my criticisms. The content of the film seems to make TOMCATS an easy target for criticism, but I can enjoy a comedy with lots of sexual humor if it’s executed well enough. SUPERBAD and KNOCKED UP are perfect examples of R-rated comedy done very right. TOMCATS did get me to laughed out loud at one moment and a couple of other scenes made me chuckle. For the record, it also has one of the nastiest jokes I’ve ever seen in a comedy of this type. It’s just plain wrong and almost made me hurl. Therein lies some of the many problems with the film. It seems to focus more on grossing the viewer out instead of actually trying to make them laugh. I’m sure there’s a fan base for TOMCATS, but this seems like the kind of movie that Jr. High kids might watch unbeknownst to their parents, laugh hysterically about it, and then revisit to find that it doesn’t live up to their memories (e.g. SAVING SILVERMAN and KUNG-POW).
TOMCATS also spends far too much time setting up the next set-piece, rather than actually focusing on telling the story at hand. This makes for a mismatched film that has an identity crisis. At times, it focuses on throwing the sickest ideas at the viewer and in others, it’s trying to be a sweet rom-com with a gross sense of humor. There are plot threads that seem to be forgotten or sporadically pop up with little interest. For example, one running gag is that Mike’s best friend thinks his wife is being unfaithful and that comes out in about three scenes, but the punch-line (delivered right before the credits roll) feels forced. Bill Maher shows up in an uncredited side role as the villain of the piece and seems to be bored with the material. The film also begins with animated credits and the main character is a cartoonist, but this is fast forgotten. Maybe, the cartoonist angle is forgivable because two other lame comedies were released in the same year featuring cartoonist protagonists (FREDDY GOT FINGERED and MONKEYBONE).
The characters aren’t particularly likable. Jerry O’Connell takes center stage as Mike and it’s hard to feel any sympathy for this guy’s predicament. It’s almost like Michael Fassbender’s character from SHAME was turned into a comedic role, which results in exactly what you would expect from such a decision. Shannon Elizabeth is so-so as the love interest and never really gives a reason for us to buy into how she’s acting. You can write all the other characters off as well with one exception. I don’t know how or why, but Jake Busey is the most enjoyable thing in TOMCATS. He plays the scumbag with such maniacal glee and simply delights in making the viewer hate him. He seems to be the only character that is three-dimensional. It’s probably going out on a limb to say that the first-time director had this in mind as his intention, especially because he wrote this film too.
There are some watchable jokes in TOMCATS, along with one severely disgusting scene that made me gag. Jake Busey gives the only good performance in the film. It is these few laughs and Busey’s performance that save this one from being an outright failure. Most of the jokes feel cheap and obvious. The tone constantly switches between being a gross-out comedy and a crude rom-com. TOMCATS is definitely a product of its time and that was a sad period in comedic film history. Skip this one and seek out better R-rated comedies. There are plenty of awesome ones to choose from!