MOVIE REVIEWS : Suburbanite at Sea in ‘Captain Ron’

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“Captain Ron” (citywide) is a movie fairy tale about finding your lost virility, and it has a simple solution: Hire Kurt Russell. Burlesqued machismo is a specialty of Russell’s. But it doesn’t really save the film, a seagoing comic fable that, like Captain Ron’s vessel, the Wanderer, keeps springing leaks, blowing gaskets, falling apart and struggling to reach one phony port after another.

The movie is about a beleaguered Chicago corporate clone, Martin Short as Martin Harvey, who inherits a yacht and decides to take his family on a pleasure cruise from the Caribbean to Florida. Short’s Martin is the same kind of frustrated luckless suburbanite his old amigos Chevy Chase and Steve Martin are always playing, and he’s obviously dreaming of calypso seas and reggae adventure--and of the romantic past summoned up by the boat’s old owners, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard.

But dreams die hard, especially suburbanite dreams. The boat is a mess, the kids are restless, the chart burns up, pirates and Fidelistas are on the prowl, and the skipper they hire, Captain Ron, seems to spend much of his time passed out at the wheel, hustling Monopoly games or frolicking with the local wahines .

Captain Ron is a tramp, but he’s a life-force tramp, like Nick Nolte in “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” the raffish rascal who’ll get the party rolling. Any actor who’s had the guts to impersonate both Elvis Presley and John Wayne on screen obviously has few qualms about displaying his manhood, and there’s a kind of grand carnal good humor in Russell’s beery growl, in the way he leers out of his black eye-patch and matted blond dreadlocks. From the moment we see him--tumbling out of a borrowed car that promptly rolls off a pier, a rifle-waving cuckolded husband in hot pursuit--it’s obvious that he’s supposed to shoot a load of testosterone into the movie, and into Martin’s life.


Putting Short and Russell in the same movie almost seems like eerie genius. But director-co-writer Thom Eberhardt has shortchanged Short, who doesn’t get enough comic space, any room for the subtle derangements or fey lunacy of his great Ed Grimley TV mode. Basically, Short is just playing the usual fussbudget sitcom daddy: Bob Newhart’s dull Wilmette nephew.

There aren’t many funny lines in “Captain Ron.” Russell has one: the quick comeback, “I believe in Jesus” when asked to explain how his allegedly broken leg suddenly healed in three minutes. And it’s probably a comic mistake to play Martin and Captain Ron as constantly at loggerheads. How can you do a satire on male bonding, when the males won’t bond?

What the movie does have is lots of lost opportunities. Golden sunlight, blue seas, gorgeous locations, crisp photography, infectious reggae and a lively cast that keeps hopping on their lines like piranhas on a stripped bone: All this should have made us laugh harder. It doesn’t. “Captain Ron” (PG-13 for elements of sensuality and for some language) is a movie about trapped suburbanites who break out into romantic seas, but it never really leaves suburbia. Its spiritual home is in the shopping mall. Like the Cap’n himself, this movie guzzles up its dreams and ignores the busted engine.

‘Captain Ron’

Kurt Russell: Captain Ron

Martin Short; Martin Harvey

Mary Kay Place: Katherine Harvey

Benjamin Salisbury: Benjamin Harvey

A Touchstone Pictures presentation of a Touchwood Pacific Partners/David Permut production, released by Buena Vista Pictures. Director Thom Eberhardt. Producers David Permut, Paige Simpson. Executive producer Ralph Winter. Screenplay by John Dwyer, Eberhardt. Cinematographer Daryn Okada. Editor Tina Hirsch. Costumes Jennifer Von Mayrhauser. Music Nicholas Pike. Production design William F. Matthews. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG-13.