Men At Work Review
The immediate credit sequence of Men At Work doesn’t give the audience much hope for the rest of the film. You think, or at least you hoped going into this movie, that you would be watching a buddy-buddy, action comedy. However, the music, reminiscent of the theme from The Terminator, gives the film a science-fiction ‘feel’, while the opening exchanges by the film’s leading ‘bad guy’ and the ‘one you know will be killed before the film reaches thirty minutes’, stink of cliché, and have an intrusive, soap opera-like score. The problem being, inexperienced actor/director Emilio Estevez doesn’t know whether to take the opening in a serious way, or do everything over-the-top and not take it seriously at all. His indecision here cannot but leave the audience totally indecisive and unsure as to what he has in store for us in the next ninety minutes of film. Luckily, he finds a platform and builds on it, creating some often, hilarious interplay between real-life brother Charlie Sheen, and this is where the film really comes to life.
Carl Taylor (Charlie Sheen) and James St. James (Emilio Estevez) are garbage men who dream of bigger things. One night, after their usual bickering about what is to come in their lives, they witness, what they believe to be an intruder in an apartment across the road. Carl decides to shoot the intruder with his pellet gun in order to deter him. Eventually shrugging off James’ protestations, Carl shoots the intruder and they both duck for cover beneath the window. Unbeknown to them, while they are hiding, two more intruders enter the room, strangle the guy who Carl shot with the pellet gun and make off with the body. Believing all is well, Carl and James return to work the next day only to find the man’s body in a metal container on their garbage route. Carl is worried that he killed the man, while Louis (Keith David), sent on their garbage run to keep them in check, informs him that the man is a leading Mayor candidate so they strangely decide to hang on to the body until they can figure out what to do.
The plot is a little convoluted, as it is easy to see that the idea for the film came from a simple set-up of which comedy could ensue, and then the fleshing out of the story has left a bit too much going on. Estevez who writes, directs and stars in this movie shows his directorial immaturity as he breezes through the plot leaving a few holes here and there, while his script doesn’t maintain the supporting characters with any depth, as they become clichéd caricatures. However, he certainly has a knack for character interplay and physical comedy. He keeps his camera unobtrusive, and lets the actors, namely himself, Sheen and David, play off of one another. On the writing side, he keeps the dialogue sharp even if at times he does rely on the physicality’s of the situation to make them work.
The performances are the very thing that makes this film worth watching. Sheen and Estevez are an excellent comedy partnership as they brilliantly work off each other for comedic effect. Estevez is the more calm of the two, Sheen the more outrageous, but both are superbly dry. They’re well supported by a wonderful turn from Keith David, whose ex-Vietnam war veteran gets some of the better lines of dialogue, as well as making the not-so good lines funnier than they should be. His ‘never touch another man’s fries’ cold attitude almost steals the show from the two leads. Additionally, John Putch and Tommy Hinkley are also excellent as two inept cops who have a strange fascination in making James and Carl’s lives miserable. It is unfortunate though that the supporting characters do feel too much like clichéd cut outs from other movies. However, this is compensated for by the fact they all work for comedy effect, so this becomes only a minor quibble.
The film was obscure at the beginning and it ends in the same vain. It is almost as if Estevez knew exactly what he was doing in the middle of the film, yet he was asleep during the making of the start and the end. Neither work very well, as they feel more out of place than anything. The action at the end is slapstick in nature, but the jokes become second fiddle to trying to sort out the plot.
Overall, this is an enjoyable comedy that works well for the most part. Estevez and Sheen prove they are a good comedy duo, but Estevez’s direction and writing skills show they still need work.
The disc is two-sided (don’t worry, it isn’t a flipper!), with a 4:3 pan and scan frame on one side, and a 1.85:1, widescreen enhanced frame on the other. The anamorphic 1.85:1 frame is the original theatrical aspect ratio of the film, and this is the one I viewed. The picture on the whole, is quite good. Colours are well presented, and black level and shadow detail are strong. However, digitally the picture isn’t as well defined as it could be, feeling a little soft throughout. The print is in fairly good condition with only the odd speck of dirt here and there, but grain is evident, especially on clear backgrounds.
The sound is presented as Dolby Digital 2.0, and is again quite good, if not exceptional. There is a lack of ambience with the 2-channels, even though there is good use of all the speakers. Dialogue is mainly centered, while music and other sound effects feel the surround speakers. The soundtrack is perhaps not as clear as it could have been, with a little hiss noticeable.
Theatrical Trailer - presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1. This is quite funny, and does give a good indication of what the film is like, but you get the distinct impression the person who did the voice over really couldn’t be bothered.
A decent presentation, of a fairly, good comedy. The lack of extra features will only annoy die-hard fans of the movie, and undoubtedly wouldn’t have added much to the film. The film itself passes the time, but it does come with the distinct baggage of a writer/director trying to find his feet.