The Wackiest Ship in the Army
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Jack Lemmon and Ricky Nelson get that sinking feeling when they pilot THE WACKIEST SHIP IN THE ARMYin this hilarious comedy adventure. During World War II, the Army recruits Navy Officer Rip Crandall (Lemmon) to command a battered old Schooner for a top secret mission. Masquerading as a Japanesefishing boat, this nautical nightmare must smuggle a spy through the mine-infested waters of the South Pacific. Unfortunately for Crandall, he has inherited a wild crew of butter-fingered landlubbers, including First Officer Tommy Hanson (Nelson). Can the dedicated Lieutenant whip these comicallyinexperienced gobs into shape in time to carry out their perilous mission? For gales of laughter, take a riotous cruise aboard THE WACKIEST SHIP IN THE ARMY!
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Navy. Let's just get it out of the troubled air first - shouldn't this film be called "The Wackiest Ship in the Navy". To begin with it has a stronger presence, reminding you of the good times we had with "McHale's Navy", but here it feels as if the director is already telling us a joke we don't feel like laughing at. Perhaps the two words, "Ship" and "Army" are a joke within themselves, demonstrating the power of the comedy right off the bat. Well, it failed. This was an annoying title that just got worse as I continued to think about the logistics. With this thought out of the way, what else failed in this film? Two words: Jack Lemmon. This was the worst film to showcase his talents, because he demonstrated no ability at all. His character, the most capable non-captain apparently in the entire Army (...or is it Navy?), was unfunny, overzealous, and arrogant throughout the picture. Coupled with his mopey second in command (a horrid Ricky Nelson as Ens. Hanson) that seemed to only take directions subtlety without passion or excitement, created a cinematic experience that was both boring and uncreative all at the same time. While I didn't want these two central characters to fall within the Hollywood cliché circle, I did want some comfort - some actual humor - as well as some chemistry that built upon that humor. Alas, none was present, and instead we had two actors just play their part all the while collecting their paycheck.
When a film uses the word "Wackiest" in its title, it would imply that there is going to be mischief, uncalled for chaos (also involving mischief), and characters that are larger than life providing us with the belly laughs we need through these harsh economic times. In my opinion, "Wackiest" is a misrepresentation for this film. The idea behind this film, a Navy man has to sail his way into enemy territory using a crew that knows nothing about actual sailing and ultimately asked to save the day. I know...I know, the jokes should have been flowing like the green screen ocean behind Lemmon, but it never did. The premise is strong, it had the potential to make you laugh - it drew ideas from other comedy films that do make you laugh - but where this film failed was in its execution. Comedy was forbidden in this film. Sure, there were scenes that attempted at comedy (i.e. the bad coffee sight gag), and there was plenty of pre-music warning us that something funny could happen - but nothing did. We spend forty minutes getting to the boat, twenty minutes on it, then the other forty carelessly outsmarting the Japanese insurgency. There were no sight gags, no quotable lines, and definitely nothing to say this would be great with friends and family. "The Wackiest Ship in the Army" floundered, with poor production values and paper-thin characters, not even a grin was worth the effort. If this ship was aptly called "The Wackiest", then I feel bad for those other vessels that probably promised laughs - and followed through successfully.
There is very little positive praise that one can give this film. Jack Lemmon, a man that I admire from his work on "The Apartment" and "The Odd Couple" knows, or should I say knew, comedy. He knew how to make this viewer laugh, and he has done it with what seemed like the greatest grace, but this film didn't even scratch the surface of his potential. Why waste such a talented actor on a script that had larger holes than those written by Louis Sachar. It felt as if the writers had to produce a script in three days, or they would lose their jobs. This film, "The Wackiest Ship in the Army" is that final project. None of the characters, even Lemmon, are worth viewing. The pathetic attempt at danger, attempting to build any suspense especially during the mine field gimmick, was devastatingly bad. This was not comedy. This was not even an attempt at comedy. This was faux comedy. Not quite real - even when the entire audience is hoping for the best.
Overall, I have to admit, this was a horrid film. One could argue that Jack Lemmon could never make a disastrous film, and I would have to continually quote this film. Absolutely nothing worked in this film, from the comedy, the factual elements, and even the moments of suspense - it just seemed pre-cut. This was a pre-determined film, knowing from the beginning that the ending was in sight and no clouds ahead. I can't argue about that, in this pre-determined world Hollywood, there is a sense of comfort with knowing how a film will end, but it is how we get to that ending that counts. In this film, that was nearly as bad as our outside elements. The characters were never witty, never dialogue savvy, or even schooled in physical comedy. Nothing worked in this "naval" comedy. I would love to tell you something, anything positive about this film, just in hopes that perhaps I missed something - but alas, I cannot suggest it to anyone. I would like to attach this warning - this is not a comedy - repeat - this is not a comedy. View at your own risk ... we cannot promise your safety.
Grade: * out of *****
Well written, well played, solid film.
All in all, this is family fare and can be enjoyed by everyone despite its age.