May 9, 2012

COMIC CABBY (1987/VHS/Vestron Video) Review

You know what I like? The opening credits of Night Court. Particularly those establishing shots: newsstands, horse-drawn carriages, yellow cabs driving over steaming sewer covers, young people really enjoying second-hand cigarette smoke. Across nine seasons, a total of thirteen of these shots were used, which weren't nearly enough to sate my personal need for b-roll footage of mid-1980s New York City. Luckily for me, some enterprising filmmakers anticipated that very need while attempting to turn a bestselling joke book into a comedy video.

The Jerk
It's a particularly rough first day on the job for rookie New York cabby Stuart Michaels. He's been screamed at by another cab driver about the color of piss, has unwittingly offended a carful of electro enthusiasts and flaccidly attempted to help a blustery old rich woman and her sweaty, caustic son find a necklace that was never lost. Oversensitive Stu's ready to hang up his keys and go back to his old job at a soda warehouse when fellow cabsmith Al "Grandpa Munster" Lewis shames him into sticking with the job, tacking on some conversation-initiating advice: "Shtaht off widda joke!"

The Breakfast Club
The ice is broken. Welcome to open mic night in the back of Stu's cab. A veritable United Nations of passengers spout off a nigh-ceaseless marathon of racy chestnuts ("Whatsa difference between a snowman and a snow-woman? SNOWBAWWLLS!") until even Al, Comic Cabby's foremost purveyor of prosaic one-liners, can take no more. As for me, the entire montage was filmed on location in a moving vehicle, so I had plenty of Reagan-era Big Apple scenery to arrest my wistful gaze, though who wants to stare at New York's finest decade through a greasy taxicab window? I want to see it with my eyeballs unprotected, right up close and obscenely well-lit. Little did I know, all I'd have to do is listen to one perfectly embarrassing rap song (I give it a B+) and witness Stu fail to secure the phone number of a lady passenger as beautiful as she was corny (get your head outta your ass, Stu) and my ticket to Establishing Shot Heaven would be validated.

City Lights
The be-leathered hinder of a magenta-haired punk girl! A payphone with its receiver broken in half! An alley cat giving the camera the stinkeye! Pantry Supreme! And, as if everything leading up to this wasn't already thrilling enough, a neon sign screaming the word "TRASH" in Shatter font! With that, I know that these frames weren't included as mere padding; they were put here, on this videotape, for me specifically, to fill the hole in my being that Night Court hath dugged. I'm only starting to come down off this potent assortment of images when I realize that Stu is too distracted by a seemingly-libidinous passenger's boobs in his face and her left hand sliding down the front of his Members Only jacket to notice that she's stolen his earnings from a cigar box in the front seat. Business before pleasure, Stu. Get your head outta your ass.

Muppets Take Manhattan
Sudden pennilessness leads Stu to another life-decision crossroads and a hobo with a windshield-washing kangaroo puppet that sounds like a snide Caroll Spinney does nothing to ease his disquiet. Once again, Stu the Quitter wants to throw in the towel and, once again, he seeks out Al's advice. This time, however, Al is too deeply embroiled in some lottery-cracking gibberish with another old-timer (it's easy; you gotta bidsha frimya cayman before you hibda the slibnatz) to listen to Stu bellyache and sends him packing.

Soul Vengeance
Stu decides to pick up one last fare before he shuffles back to his night shift at the soda warehouse and ends up chauffering an overbearing animal bites supervisor and his best friend's Southern belle sister on a citywide sightseeing tour, musical montage-style. Naturally, this means more establishing shots, but the best that can be produced is a quick clip of a live crab being tossed into a paper bag by a set of tongs. The movie shrugs at me and admits that it blew its load with Neon Trash. Stu, on the other hand, has mastered the cabby's art of idle repartee during the journey and has come away from it confident and invigorated, head finally outta his ass. He even manages to thwart a second cigar box robbery with some quick-thinking brake application, after which he makes the would-be bandit strip down and do the walk of shame right into police custody, adding an extra layer of insult by repeatedly squirting him in the nothin's with a water gun.

Taxi Driver
I'm all for insurmountable movie concepts, but a filmed version of Jim Pietsch's "The New York City Cab Driver's Joke Book" seemed like it was going to be a tough watch, even for me. I know I've already expressed my affinity for the Night Court opening, but did I also mention that I greatly enjoy the Munsters, the Muppets, and 1980s novelty rap? Well, I do. Comic Cabby managed to fill each of those four glasses just exactly to the point where I was able to get video-drunk enough to overlook its faults and enjoy myself, even if I am going to feel a little guilty about it when I wake up tomorrow. That said, I've got one for ya:

Q: What does Comic Cabby have in common with your next-door neighbors having sex?

A: They're both a lot of fun to watch until someone catches you.

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