Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys (2005) / Comedy

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for language and some sexual humor
Running Time: 72 min.

Cast: Lochlyn Munro, Christina Moore, Dave Barry, John Cleese, Khalil Kain, Dan Marino, Carlos Ponce, Megan Ward, Hank Goldberg, Dick Vitale
Director: Jeff Arch
Screenplay: Jeff Arch (Inspired by the book "The Complete Guide to Guys" by Dave Barry)
Review published February 4, 2005

It’s definitely an interesting idea, taking Dave Barry’s satirical book, “The Complete Guide to Guys”, and making a feature-length movie out of it.  Barry’s a funny guy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist, and the source material is rife with quotable quips and hilarious observations.  I suppose that there are some books that just don’t translate well from text to film, and that would especially be true of Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys, in which writer-director Jeff Arch (who helped pen the screenplays for Sleepless in Seattle and Iron Will) incorporates Barry’s ideas and concepts but loses much of that which makes his writing so humorous – his gift for words. In addition, the injection of additional goofy, visual humor not found in the book is also not as funny as the wry and witty style of the text format would be.

Dave Barry’s original guide was just that – a guide.  There isn’t a plot or any characters to work with, and in adapting to a medium which nearly always is built on both, it would seem quite a challenge for Arch to develop something cohesive in a cinematic vein.  Arch’s decision is to construct fictional characters, and utilize them when trying to demonstrate the elements of the various witticisms of the book.  The main couple consists of Roger (Lochlyn Munro, White Chicks) and Elaine (Christina Moore, Without a Paddle), but other characters are introduced when necessary, such as to show how guys relate to guys, or their significant others with other women to contrast.  Most of the film is told in vignette form, glued together with narration from Dave Barry himself, starting with guys from their origins in prehistoric days (and other points of history), all the way up to today.   Sports, dating, and even bathroom etiquette are explored.

Arch’s construction is ingenious, to give him some credit, and he definitely sets things up well for what could have been a hilarious, original comedy – a definite breath of fresh air in a sea of standard narrative comedies.  It is certainly likeable, and underneath the fictional contrivances you can see that the many observations are quite inspired and truthful (in an exaggerated sense, of course), which shouldn’t be surprising since Barry’s book is funny. 

Alas, while Barry’s concepts are hilarious, and the artificial construct is on the money, the movie just never achieves the comic momentum required to ultimately pay off.  Part of the reason is that Jeff Arch, in order to make this work as a movie, has to introduce many new elements, from the plot, to the characters, to visual sight gags, and to the dialogue – all of which comes from the mind of Jeff Arch and not Dave Barry.  Barry’s a funny guy, and so is Arch, but in a different sort of way, and the two styles aren't able to quite work in unison.  Arch tries to translate Barry’s witticisms into a cinematic equivalent, but it just can’t work without Barry’s words and writing style, even if Barry is given some lines of narration.

The two forms of humor tend to be at odds with one another, with Barry’s incisive barbs mixed filtered into Arch’s broadly physical delivery, which makes the tone rather uneven, as well as much of the timing.  Since visual and aural comedy is almost completely reliant on timing for laughs, the result is the semblance of humor, without the oomph to get the big laughs.  It’s also difficult for a vignette comedy to achieve momentum, for the simple reason that almost each scene lacks continuity in story and characters.  Some scenes are funny on their own, while others fall flat, and unfortunately, the majority of these scenes drag on longer than the jokes require, probably because too much expository information is employed to set each new scene up, and then followed up with only mildly amusing payoffs at best.

Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys has a nice cast of comedic actors, and does feature some interesting bit roles for John Cleese (Shrek 2, Die Another Day), Dan Marino ("NFL on CBS"), Hank Goldberg ("SportsCenter") and Dick Vitale.  It was made on the cheap, but it does have a good sense of visual flair, and an energy that makes you want to like it, despite its flaws.  Alas, as intriguing as it all is, the laughs just aren’t there.  A pure comedy without many laughs just can’t get my recommendation, regardless of how much I enjoyed the performances or presentation.  If you want a dose of Dave Barry, read Dave Barry, and only watch this as a quaint companion to the paperback guide of the same name.

Qwipster's rating:

©2005 Vince Leo