The Great Chameleon (2012) **1/2
Dir. Goran Kalezic
Starring: Victor Altomare, Robert Davi, Stacy Keach, Monique Zordan, Ted Han
Review By Greg Klymkiw
A hardened criminal has been in stir for three years and all he really wants is a burger and fries. He stops at a fast food joint and faces a huge lineup - due, as per usual, to the stupidity and indecision of the clientele and the incompetence of the minimum wage staff behind the counter. Rather than suffering through a long wait, the criminal morphs into a shuffling, slobbering, slurring, whining and demanding mentally challenged person. He moves to the front of the line. Launching into "full retard", he causes enough havoc and, rather realistically (given how stupid MOST people are), gets the pity and support of the clientele and before you can see "cheeseburger and fries", he gets it right pronto AND free.
Okay, so think less of me because this made me almost soil my pants from laughing so hard. No, better yet - fuck you! Besides, even if most of us have not resorted to the "full retard" to get what we want when we want it, we find other ways to do it. I've thought nothing about affecting a gimpy limp to get to the front of lineups or pudging out my lower lips, furrowing my brow, lowering my visage and using a very thick Ukrainian accent to get Senior Citizen discounts without providing I.D. It's the humour of recognition, right? Ah screw it, who am I trying to kid? It's low-brow retard humour. But it IS funny!
The aforementioned scene is from a pretty awful, detestable movie. In fact, it's a total mess. HOWEVER, it'd be TOO easy to write it off as a complete pile of crap or maybe even one of the worst movies ever made, because the facts of the matter are this: I laughed quite uproariously all the way through the movie.
Seeing as The Great Chameleon is a comedy, this is not a bad thing at all, however, it can't change the fact that the script is little more than a flimsy clothesline to hang some of the most infantile gross-out gags I've ever experienced and that it's directed with all the panache and competence that might be brought to bear if one had hired a longshoreman to helm the proceedings. The picture, on so many levels, deserves little more than my lowest rating of 1 PUBIC HAIR, but I can't bring myself to do it because for better or worse...
I pissed myself laughing.
Its star Victor Altomare (who co-wrote the purported screenplay with the film's apparent director Goran Kalezic) plays a low-life criminal with a penchant for disguise who is sprung from prison by an FBI agent (Monique Zordan, perhaps one of the worst actresses now living on the planet) to lead her to the whereabouts of a little girl (Altomare's niece it turns out) who's been snatched by an Asian Mob boss (Ten Han, also awful but screamingly funny both intentionally and unintentionally). A grumpy parole officer (Robert Davi, shockingly good and funny in spite of how awful the movie often is) stakes out Altomare whilst he goes about his business with the help of his effete makeup artist played completely and utterly insanely by Stacy Keach.
Let it be said again that there is nothing remotely good about the actual filmmaking. The screenplay is a pretty inept excuse for a story and occasionally tries to sneak in stuff we're supposed to take seriously and the direction is lame at worst and barely competent at best.
Why is it funny? Well, first and foremost, Victor Altomare is clearly a funny guy. Now, anyone who knows me, knows all to well that I'm a veritable Encyclopedia Britannica of all things movie-related and yet, I have no idea - NO FUCKING IDEA - who Victor Altomare is. I've never heard of him and to my knowledge have never seen him in anything. I know virtually nothing about him. Seriously. His credits are meagre and mean NOTHING to me.
Altomare is clearly no spring chicken and has sprung out of nowhere to produce, co-write and star in this movie. Out of fucking nowhere, I tell you. Now, maybe having no idea who he is could be a good thing, because what I do know is that he IS a good comic actor who might actually be a great comic actor if he was in a movie with something resembling writing and a director who could/would tone down his tendency to over-indulge his talents to their detriment. Altomare has a great mug for the camera and his comic timing is often impeccable. Unfortunately, many of the set-pieces go on far too long and bugger up their potential to be gems - or at least golden pellets of laugh turds.
As for mugs, he's surrounded himself with some of the best in the business. Craggy-faced Robert Davi is one of the best working character actors in the business. He'd have been so at home in hard boiled post-war crime movies, but in these woeful days, actors like him are always taking roles in pictures well below their talent. (Kind of like this one.)
By rights, he should be wearing an expression of "what the fuck am I doing in this thing?" all the way through The Great Chameleon, but he's such a great actor that he embraces his role happily, plays it completely straight and because he's often thrust into some utterly ludicrous situations (looking into his rear-view mirror to see Altomare in a kilt straddling the trunk and pissing all over the back window of his car, or sitting in a barber chair while Altomare in disguise as an effete gay hairdresser tries to seduce him, or - I kid you not - jerking off after seeing a hot, young naked woman hanging her boobs out of Altomare's window), his straightforward approach actually makes almost everything he both does and says knee-slappingly hilarious.
Stacy Keach, one of the most respected actors of his generation, minces and lisps and prances about in one of the most shockingly stereotypical renderings of a homosexual I've seen in decades. And even though one might wince at how completely inappropriate this "light-in-the-loafers" role and performance are in a contemporary context, there's no denying that he made me laugh almost every second he was on screen. If this were another age, Keach could well have had a fine career in his august years to rival that of Franklin Pangborn.
The two perfectly and genuinely awful performances in the film even have their charms.
Monique Zordan is stunningly gorgeous, but everytime she opens her mouth, her dialogue thuds so resoundingly upon the floor it'd been enough to have tenants below her complaining about the noise. Given the role and the dreadful dialogue she's forced to utter, it's possible that her performance is a casualty of some of the picture's worst incompetencies. I almost want to believe this as the camera loves her so much I'd be happy to see her in more pictures AND the stellar Davi does his job so well, he almost gets HER to raise the bar on her delivery.
Ted Han as the bumblingly evil Asian ganglord is also atrocious in a thoroughly wooden fashion, but he does give it the old college try and since he's forced to deliver some unbelievably foul examples of stereotypical "Asian" dialogue, he does get a few points for actually generating laughs.
The checklist of mean-spirited, old-fashioned and completely inappropriate humour in this movie includes;
- Shit jokes
- Fart jokes
- Vomit jokes
- Pissing jokes
- Retard jokes
- Cripple jokes
- Penis jokes
- Sodomy jokes
and ALL of the humour is rooted in:
- and every other "ism" you can think of.
But goddamn, a lot of it is funny and I know I'm headed straight for Hell because I laughed so much.
At the same time, it really might have been better if the movie had actually been good.
"The Great Chameleon" is in limited theatrical release and playing in Toronto at the Royal Theatre.