Producers: Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Phil Hudson, Sam Hurwitz, Steve Lemme, Matthew Medlin, Richard Perello, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske Director: Kevin Heffernan Screenplay: Broken Lizard (Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske) Cast: Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske, Adrianna Palicki, Eugene Cordero and Marcus Henderson Distributor: Hulu/Searchlight Pictures
Anyone familiar with comedy troupe Broken Lizard’s previous movies, like “Super Troopers,” “Club Dread” and “Beer Fest,” will know what to expect from “Quasi”—plenty of raunchy, gross-out gags and deliberately tasteless humor. This time around, though, the action is set in a thirteenth-century France that will be unfamiliar to medievalists but perhaps will strike a chord with fans of Monty Python. It’s a distinction that makes no difference, though, because “Quasi” is as bad as the group’s earlier movies. In Latin “quasi” means “as if”—e.g., “as if this movie were any good.”
But the title doesn’t refer to that adverb. It’s short for Quasimodo, Victor Hugo’s hunchback of Notre Dame, who’s here played by Steve Lemme. He’s apparently retired—the obviously meager budget could never have sustained sets of the majestic cathedral and its bell tower—and taken a job in the king’s torture research room, where he and his hut mate Duchamp (Kevin Heffernan, who also directs, leadenly) test instruments, including the rack Quasi invented to pull out his hump (it didn’t work), on hapless volunteers like Michel (Erik Stolhanske), who grins happily as he gets progressively taller through the movie, until at the end it interferes with his burial. (The masochism-as-joke was far funnier when Jack Nicholson and Steve Martin did it in the two versions of “The Little Shop of Horrors.”)
Quasi unexpectedly wins the “Papal Lottery” (presumably a nonsensical reference to indulgences) with a ticket bought by Duchamp, an accident that causes friction between the two when it makes Quasi a celebrity. It entitles him to a private audience with Pope Cornelius (Paul Soter), and King Guy (Jay Chandrasekhar) enlists him to assassinate the pontiff during it. The plan goes awry, and Cornelius in turn order Quasi to assassinate the king. Also involved in the machinations is Guy’s new English wife Catherine (Adrianne Palicki), who becomes Quasi’s romantic interest and discovers something important about his genealogy while they’re making love.
It would be tedious to unravel the convolutions of the plot, laid out with a degree of ham-fistedness that’s brutally accentuated by the in-your-face performances and sodden direction. The entire thing plays like a badly-improvised Comedy Club skit dragged out interminably, the actors reciting their lame jokes and then pausing as though anticipating laughs that never come. It doesn’t help that the troupe’s five “stars” all take multiple roles, with Chandrasekhar also appearing as the owner of the bar that serves as a “Cheers”-like meeting place, Heffernan as the king’s stuffy aide, Lemme as the royal jester, Soter as Quasi’s boss in the torture room, and Stolhanske as the cardinal who’s always at the pope’s side. In all ten parts their exaggerated, rubber-faced turns feel as though they’re designed for a stage, with a need to project to the last role of a distant balcony. Up close they’ll likely cause you to cringe—with Lemme’s squashed-mouth Quasi, played for comic grotesquerie, completely misguided but the others not far behind. Only Palicki, who wisely underplays, survives with her dignity intact.
The threadbare production mirrors the utter lack of inspiration in the script. For the record Bianca Ferro was the production designer responsible for sets so shabby they look like something your kids might cobble together in the back yard, and costumer Kelly Kwon appears to have favored used potato sacks and the costume rooms of impoverished local theatre companies for her work. Joe Collins’ cinematography is cramped and claustrophobic, Frank McGrath’s editing should have cut some of the dead space that follows what passes for mirth-inducing gags, and Jason Akans’ score is instantly forgettable.
In his opening narration Brian Cox, who (having suffered the indignity of being in both “Super Trooper” movies) has the wisdom not to appear onscreen here, informs us that the thirteenth century sucked. To say that the movie does too wouldn’t be wide of the mark.