Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
August 22, 2010
Every Day Is Special
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Other Guys, 1618 Seafood, Downtown Baseball
Okay, yes, I laughed during The Other Guys. Out loud. Big laughs. About a
dozen times. Maybe that's enough for a comedy.
But laughs or no laughs, what a badly written, confusing mess. Not confusing
about what happened, but confusing about what was true or not.
I know -- it's fiction. None of it's true. No resemblance to any person living or
dead, yadda yadda. But fiction has a kind of truth to it, and comedy especially
so. We need a place to stand.
In the Mary Tyler Moore Show, everybody else could be wacky, but Mary
Richards herself had to be real. She was cute as a button and funny, but she
was real, and she had the same consternation with the antics of the others that
we had. In Groundhog Day, we needed Andie McDowell's character to be our
frame of reference. In Three Stooges farces, we need Larry. In other words, we
need a character who is human, who isn't doing unbelievable things.
In The Other Guys, we've got nobody.
This is the action comedy that sounds great when it's getting pitched but
usually falls down and dies in the writing -- think of The Last Action Hero if you
doubt me. But at first it looked as if writers Adam McKay and Chris Henchy
might have gotten it right.
The premise is that Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg are two loser cops who
aspire to be the famous (but hideously destructive) action-hero cops (played
wonderfully by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson).
As you might expect, Ferrell plays the loserer of the two -- he's a guy who
normally does forensic accounting, but for some inexplicable reason he has
gotten himself transferred into a detective unit. So we expect that Ferrell will
be highly eccentric, while his partner, Mark Wahlberg, is supposed to be the
sincere, long-suffering, competent one. You know, Nick Nolte to Eddie Murphy
in 48 Hours.
Uh-oh. I shouldn't have mentioned 48 Hours. Because that was a truly
brilliant action comedy. So was Beverly Hills Cop, though in that one it was
Eddie Murphy who was the character who kept it real. But in those two classic
action comedies, the humor arises from attitude, character, and situation.
So we have to redefine The Other Guys a little. Not an "action comedy," but a
"screwball action comedy."
So let's compare it to screwball comedies, shall we? Bringing Up Baby -- oops,
we have Cary Grant as the befuddled but keep-it-real scientist. How about
Arsenic and Old Lace? There we have the girlfriend (Priscilla Lane) to keep
reminding us of what "normal" is.
That's who Mark Wahlberg's character should have been. So it's not just
disappointing, it's downright baffling when he turns out to be, not unlucky
(shooting the wrong person) but insane (the crazy ex-boyfriend). It leaves us
nowhere to stand. Nobody is normal.
In fact, the closest thing to "normal" is Michael Keaton as the captain. But he
doesn't get enough screen time to carry off the "normal guy" part.
Michael Keaton causes serious problems, though, just by being in the movie.
Because he is what Will Ferrell only wishes he were -- a brilliant actor who
does comedy. Will Ferrell is a shallow sketch comedian who is always, always,
always out of his depth when he shares the screen with actual actors. And
Keaton's presence in this movie causes constant embarrassment-by-contrast.
And I say that even though this is the movie in which Ferrell does the least
mugging of any role I've seen him in. It's the closest to real he's ever been, as
This arises in part from the writers' lamest shtick: Having somebody adamantly
deny, over and over, what is obvious to everyone else. This means that instead
of acting zany, Ferrell has to act as if everything were normal. This keeps him
reined in, which is good.
But the writers think we're really, really stupid. Six-year-olds, in fact, to whom
the same joke will be funny over and over and over and over and over and over
and over again. So they provide us with what they think we'll like.
"Good-bye Sheila" not once but a dozen times (or so it felt).
The mother-in-law coming out to be the go-between in a really randy
conversation between a husband and wife -- not funny after the first thing
she's forced to say.
Ferrell's seeming obliviousness to his wife's hotness -- which might have
worked except that later in the movie they have him admit that he knew she
was hot all along, which destroys everything we thought we knew about his
Michael Keaton's constant use of tag lines from TLC songs, which didn't work
for several reasons: 1. Who knows or remembers anything TLC ever sang? 2.
Song tag lines are often most effective when they're already cliches or common
figures of speech, which is especially true of TLC songs, so it just sounds like
normal speech except that: 3. The other characters are constantly pointing out
the references so that even people who don't remember TLC songs are sure to
notice that they're getting something "funny." Like somebody explaining a joke
to you, and then telling the joke again and explain it again, over and over.
All these clumsy repetitions pile up until the movie sinks under its own wait.
And yet there are enough genuinely funny things that as long I didn't try to
care about anything or anybody, I was amused enough not to walk out. And
even though his part was badly written, Mark Wahlberg is very, very good --
better than this movie deserved. So were Eva Mendes and Michael Keaton.
But we would have been better off staying home and watching Beverly Hills Cop
or 48 Hours.
The restaurant at 1618 West Friendly, Avenue, called 1618 Seafood Grille, is one
of the two offspring of the old Southern Lights. The other is the newly reborn
Southern Lights, which is a cool upgrade of the old one, and much appreciated.
1618 Seafood Grille, on the other hand, is something quite different. In a city
that recently lost the brilliant restaurant 223 South Elm, and which has never
had a seafood restaurant that rises above near-adequacy, 1618 comes as a
We had heard good things from friends whom we trust to know what they're
seeing and eating in a restaurant, so we arrived with high expectations. The
menu was ambitious -- full of strange and inventive combinations that can
only work when a chef has an extraordinarily reliable sense of balance.
For instance: "pan fried sea scallop and corn cake served with roasted
zucchini, sour cream and sauteed asparagus over a black and navy bean
sauce." Every single ingredient except the black beans are or have been on my
loathsome list -- yet the combination, seasoned and prepared and arranged on
the plate at 1618, is surprisingly enjoyable.
The "crispy shrimp and pork meatballs with a spicy lime chipotle cream and
daikon radish salad": I almost cried it was so good.
And the fish tacos? I am repelled by the very notion of fish tacos. But these
are so good that it's worth leaning over the plate and letting the habanero
sauce drip all over your fingers and the plate in order to eat this perfect flavor-and-texture combination.
My wife was in rapture over the mozzarella, fried green tomato, and fresh vine-ripened tomato salad. I was happily astonished by the brilliant seafood
chowder, which is like none I've ever had before.
And the fish entrees? Usually this far inland you won't find the kind of chef
who knows how to bring out the flavors of the fish -- you're lucky if the sauces
are good. But every entree that showed up at our table pleased everyone.
In short, 1618 immediately shot to the top of our restaurant rotation as the
place we're eager to take friends and family to.
Is it perfect in every way? No. The menu is badly in need of an editor who
knows how to spell. For instance, bruschetta was misspelled without the h.
Admittedly, the incorrect "bruscetta" is spelled the way it's usually
mispronounced by untrained waiters -- as "bru-shetta."
(Italian "sce" is pronounced like the English sh; Italian "sche" is pronounced
like English sk, or the sch in school, so the word is "bru-sket-ah" when
pronounced by someone who knows what they're reading.)
Another misspelling was the annoying hyperforeignism that puts a tilde over
the n in "habanero." It's probably the influence of "jalapeño," which has the
tilde, so the Spanish word is pronounced "ha-la-pain-yo." But habanero has no
tilde in Spanish, and is pronounced with a simple n: "ah-bah-nay-ro." No tilde.
And people in a restaurant with food and service and ambience this fine should
not be making menu mistakes like a Red Lobster, OK? Those are the rules,
and it's a shame 1618 breaks them.
Fortunately, not everyone is a spelling-and-pronunciation-obsessed former
copy editor like me, so nobody but me will care.
The other problem is that the sign out on Friendly Avenue leads you to think
that the restaurant faces Friendly Avenue. The address is Friendly Avenue,
isn't it? But the establishment that faces the street is Leon's hair styling shop,
and what they serve is not delicious.
Instead, you drive around behind the building, where you will find (a) plenty of
parking places and (b) the restaurant entrance.
Expect the entrees to cost between 20 and 30 bucks, the appetizers 10 to 13.
Make a reservation.
I was absolutely right about the insanity of thinking that a baseball stadium
would help "revive" downtown. Just as predicted, it's an 8-block
(circumference) slab of nothing, so that even when there's a game going on, the
stadium still does nothing at all for the street.
It would have been easy for the city to require that the under-the-seats areas
provide plenty of streetfront retail space. That's what makes a downtown. But
our incredibly ignorant city planners, who apparently haven't read a book
about city design in forty years, make no such rules and therefore keep
encouraging the building of downtown-killing buildings like tall banks (ooh, we
have a skyline!) and parking garages without shops on the street (ooh, another
dead spot!) and, of course, our stadium (ooh, we have a minor league team!).
So as my wife and I made our way there to see a game for the first time ever,
we couldn't help but notice that while people were streaming into the stadium
for a seven-o'clock game, none of the nearby stores was open for business.
Just as predicted, the only people making money are those who rent parking
spaces; these people aren't customers for anything downtown except what's
sold inside the park.
Once inside, we made our way (not very well marked) to the elevator that took
us up to the box that a friend had invited us to. Inside, our opinion began to
improve at once. The space, both inside the room and outside on the two rows
of seats, was ample and comfortable. All who came were friends of ours, and
we had a great time talking and enjoying soft drinks and refreshments provided
by the ballpark.
We even sometimes watched the game itself. Especially because if you don't
watch, foul balls can hit your box with considerable velocity, smacking into
windows or the heads of the unwatchful.
About halfway through the game (against Charleston, I believe), our team
started making runs. Winning, in fact. At that point the crowd's attention
perked up and the game became interesting. Greensboro ended up winning.
There was a bit of a glow. Rah.
It's a weird thing: Football is much better on television, because there's
something to watch in instant replays -- the heroic athletic stunts, the
intricacy of plays. But baseball is horrible on TV, because every hit ball looks
the same in instant replay. Now and then a fielder will have a moment of
But football is horrible to attend in person, while baseball is fun. Part of the
difference is the season of the year, but it's really more about the company.
Though football offers plenty of breaks, baseball is one long break, interrupted
by occasional moments of minute activity. One pitcher. One hitter. An
occasional hurled ball. A twitch from the umpire. Baseball is about waiting for
something to happen.
When you're there with friends, though, baseball offers you a couple of hours of
good conversation while occasionally somebody does something interesting on
the field that makes you fall silent to watch. That's entertainment.
Seriously. I had a great time. And considering how cheaply you can get a seat,
it's a great family activity.
But not perfect. For one thing, the announcers and all their stunts were
pathetic. Not because they are untalented, but because not one of them has
ever been taught how to speak over big public-address systems. With all the
echo and reverb, you have to talk very slowly for your words to be intelligible.
Speak slowly enough, and you won't sound slow, you'll merely sound clear!
These announcers, alas, were radio-trained. Radio requires a constant stream
of fairly rapid talk. Uh-oh -- the opposite of what is needed during a baseball
game in an echoey outdoor park. So I truly did not understand any words
except the last word of each sentence. That made it impossible to know, let
alone care, what they were saying and doing. Talk about bush league -- why
don't they get a professional announcer instead of a radio retread?
If it hadn't been for the scoreboard, it would have been impossible to know
anything about the game or the players. The scoreboard was excellent.
Look, I still think the downtown stadium has failed to fulfil any of the promises
made by its promoters. But it does deliver something good -- baseball, with all
that that implies. Of course, it could be delivering the same thing at a
refurbished War Memorial, or at a location that didn't leave a four-block (in
area) corpse in the middle of downtown.
But the stadium exists, and there's no reason not to go to it.
I'm not enough of a fan to want to have a box for the season, and I'm afraid
that attending the game in my friend's box has spoiled me, like flying first class
for a while and having to go back to coach. And I'm old enough that I'm not
sure I can stand the bleacher seats for the whole game. But that's OK -- I'll
just go down and take part in some of the promotional stunt races during
inning changes ...