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Grilled

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Aug. 29th, 2006 | 07:57 pm

A well-done comedy. Heh.

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Though I work in television, I'm really not too big on watching much of it. There ARE certain shows I simply cannot live without -- Project Runway and People's Court are a few of my favorites, as trashy as they may be -- but for the most part, I simply cannot stand the majority of the shows you'll find on network TV or basic cable. Since I'm easily bored, generic television programming almost always turns me off, so to speak. And the only reason I bothered to watch King of Queens and Everybody Loves Raymond is because of my wife, who pretty much forced them upon me. Though Kevin James grew on me rather quickly, Ray Romano was someone I just couldn't stand. It's not that his show fails to tickle the ol' funny bone, but the man himself seems like kind of a jerk. Which is why I was hesitant to watch Grilled, Jason Ensler's quirky little comedy that features both sitcom heavyweights in leading roles. And if that's not enough to get your taste buds horny, throw in the always-enjoyable Kim Coates and an overblown performance by none other than Juliette Lewis for a little extra flavor.

The story follows dedicated door-to-door meat salesmen Dave (James) and Maurice (Romano), two down-on-their-luck working-class schmoes, each with their own unique set of problems. Dave is worried about what he's going to get his daughter for her birthday, a date that's literally right around the corner. He has his eye on a lovely little swing set, but he doesn't have the cash flow to bring it home. Maurice, meanwhile, is concerned about how he's going to pay for his strip-mall medical school tuition, a move, he thinks, that will free him from the seedy world of sales. To make matters worse, their boss is threatening to can them both if they can't close a deal by the end of the day. After a few embarrassing failures, the men find themselves in the home of the drop-dead gorgeous Loridonna (Sofia Vergara), who is having some issues with her suicidal sister Suzanne (Lewis). Worried that Loridonna won't close the deal, they agree to drive the saucy vixen to her sister's pad so she can straighten her out. They figure that once Suzanne has been dealt with, they can finish the deal with Loridonna and make some much-needed cash. WRONG-O. Soon Suzanne's boyfriend Tony shows up, complete with a bloody wound on his right shoulder. Dave figures he can sell the guy some meat, and for a while everything appears to be going great. That is, until two hitmen show up to ice Tony, thrusting these two hapless meat salesmen into a situation that no one would envy.

Grilled is my kind of comedy. Instead of assaulting the audience with tired jokes and gross-out gags, Jason Ensler and company are content to let the laughs come naturally, organically. Nothing feels out-of-place or forced; it's the situation itself that brings the funny. Though each guy has his own brand of faults and flaws, you still find yourself in their corner, hoping that they'll close at least ONE DEAL before the movie ends. This helps the movie tremendously; had I not been able to relate to Dave and Maurice and their plight, none of this would have worked. In fact, there's not an unlikable character to be found in the ENTIRE MOVIE, which is something of a rarity in the world of comedy. Usually there's at least one person you simply cannot stand, one person you want to pummel to death with a sledgehammer. With Grilled, even the proverbial "bad guys" are entertaining, thanks in part to the presence of Michael Rappaport, Eric Allan Kramer, and Barry Newman. Another huge plus is the film's brisk pacing, which helps keep you engaged without having to sit through a number of pointless scenes which bog down the story. Sure, some of the laughs turn out to be half-hearted chuckles, but there's no such thing as a perfect comedy. That said, Grilled might just be the next best thing: A comedy that doesn't know it's a comedy. I think that's the secret to its success. Had it been completely self-aware, the movie would have been a total disaster.

Of course, direction and competent writing can only get you so far. If you don't have the cast to bring your world to life, what's the point? Thankfully, Ensler has assembled an outstanding group of actors to flesh out his goofy little premise. Kevin James and Ray Romano are outstanding, bringing much-needed humanity to their respective roles. Romano surprised the hell out of me; this certainly isn't the guy who gets on my nerves every weekday at 5pm. Sometimes the transition from sitcom icon to full-blown movie star can be jarring, but Romano managed to WOW! me with his ability to PLAY SOMEONE ELSE ENTIRELY. Impressive, really. Of course, I had no doubt that Kevin James could handle his business, so there's really nothing to discuss there. The guy's phenomenal, and if his "I'll punch your asshole!" line doesn't make you laugh, then you might be dead. Seriously. Check your pulse. However, the film's two standouts have to be Kim Coates and Juliette Lewis. Coates manages to turn your standard mafia type into a likable, down-to-earth kind of guy. Like Dave and Maurice, Tony is just a salesman, though his line of work usually involves automatic weapons and rocket launchers as opposed to freezers and meat. Lewis, meanwhile, is in familiar territory, though she does it so well. Watching her drunkenly mouth off to a pillow is quite possibly the funniest thing I've seen all year.

And, yes, Burt Reynolds is there, too. But since anyone could have played his part, why bother mentioning him?

There's no reason. Moving on.

Backed by wonderful cinematography and a bluesy soundtrack, Grilled could quite possibly be the funniest comedy you've never seen. Why this didn't get a theatrical release is beyond me. How can tripe like You, Me, & Dupree and anything with Lindsay Lohan make it onto the big screen while something intelligent, witty, and genuinely hilarious gets dumped straight to DVD? New Line has made a habit out of acquiring quality films, only to release them STV with little to no fanfare whatsoever. It's a shame, really, because Grilled is the type of comedy we rarely see these days, one that doesn't cater to the lowest common denominator. If you're searching for something a little off the beaten path, Grilled is the way to go. Trust me on this one.

It's a fine steak in a McDonald's world.

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