Last week, lostinreviews.com published a Top 10 movie list I wrote praising the finest examples of traveling camaraderie, lending perspective and recognition to an oft-recycled cinematic tradition: the road movie. What made these people the best of the bunch was their ability to provide good conversation over long periods of time, as well as the contribution of some physical attribute, and/or special skill related to the journey at hand.
Thus, to make it on today’s flip-side list, one outlining the very worst that movies have offered in the way of traveling partners, the person in question had to have been a wretched human being. Indeed, to have entered into consideration, the character had to have demonstrated that they were either miserable company, a total load, unreliable, or all of the above.
A guy attempting to save you from a life as a political prisoner of war would more than likely be a great travel partner. Unless he was a farter. Ben Affleck’s new directorial effort, Argo, is opening next week, and details a C.I.A. fixer’s attempts to get Americans out of Iran during that country’s 1979 revolution. Buzz has been building over the film, and while that inspired last week’s list, I suppose it also inspired this one.
Very quickly, let’s just get a few honorable mentions out of the way, as there were a lot (this was a very generous category). Juno from The Descent failed to rank not because she wasn’t a total bitch and all-around asshole for getting her friends lost and devoured by cave cannibals, but because despite her setbacks, she still chipped in and did some good work. John Candy’s Del Griffith from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles also didn’t get a slot, for the guy was less the cause of calamity in the film, and more of an unpleasant companion to it. Chris Farley’s title character in Tommy Boy certainly knew how to annoy his road partner and had more than a small hand in the destruction of Spade’s sweet-ass chariot, but in the end, fatty was a dynamite salesman and a sturdy protector, anybody who can take a 2×4 to the face and survive a person worth keeping around. While worthy choices, Dillon from Predator, Arkin’s grandfather character from Little Miss Sunshine, and the walking abortion that was Jar-Jar Binks were all excluded, terrible company though they may have been, but still, nowhere near as bad-ass as, say…
Editor-in-Chief Eric Melin once posted an article of mine on Scene-Stealers, a top-10 list of cinema’s best assassins. Someone commented on this film’s absence from that list, asking why none of its characters were included in that ranking. While In Bruges was indeed superb, let’s be honest: Colin Farrell’s character Ray was a God-awful hitman, and an even worse traveling partner. Christ, the guy wasn’t able to put his mark down during the first go-round, and accidentally killed an innocent little boy on the second and third attempts. As a traveling companion, however, Ray deserved mention, for if the guy wasn’t complaining or otherwise braying like a thirsty mule, he was getting into all manner of mischief involving midgets, thieves, Canadians, and hard drugs.
Unable to enjoy the scenery, culture, and civility of Bruges, Ray spent most of the movie whining about the vacation he was on, ruining what fun his partner Ken (Brendan Gleeson) was having in the quaint European hamlet. Even when the two were separated, Ray couldn’t stop screwing with Ken’s good time, for he got into scraps pretty much everywhere he went. While amusing, this propensity to fight ultimately shittied up the pool-water pretty badly, as Farrell’s character was arrested and hauled back to Bruges after Ken had smoothed things over with their boss. Instead of everybody getting off alive (if a little leg-shot), the whole lot got blasted all to hell, and what might have been a nice little Belgium vacation turned into a bloodbath. Leave it to the British to ruin a perfectly good outing, right? Indeed: the next entrant could have related…
There’s something to be said about a guy who couldn’t get his crew to their destination after more than a year of traveling. Sure, this was the middle-ages and all, and these guys didn’t even have horses (just coconut shells), but what the hell? King or no, Arthur was a mess. That he couldn’t hold down an argument with a mud-digging peasant about basic political discourse should have been the first hint that this guy shouldn’t have been in charge, his fool-hardy leadership having produced more encounters with dangerous knights, wizards, and psychotic rabbits than anything else. True, these setbacks were all inspired trials that related to their holy quest, but who the hell asked these guys to go after some cup, anyway?
Had they minded their own business, Galahad might have gotten laid, the minstrel might not have been eaten, and a wedding at Swamp Castle might have suffered at least a dozen fewer murders. Though the regent certainly inspired the confidence of his group and was never shy about a good scrap, his fighting style consisted only of “charge” and “run away,” most encounters he led ending in miserable failure (defeat at the hands of the French is unforgivable, in any century). In the end he didn’t get the Grail, a nice chunk of his party had been killed, and what remained got hauled off to the shit-house by cops who took Arthur and his crew in without a fight. Though a brave warrior, the King was one hell of a lousy traveling partner.
True to the brutal honesty of this picture, even relationships were presented in this movie for what they so often are: a one-sided sham. Totally committed to a piece-of-shit oil rig worker (Jack Nicholson’s Bobby) who didn’t respect her or himself, Karen Black’s Rayette didn’t so much join Bobby on his trip, but rather followed the man and held onto him for dear life. Once Nicholson’s character got word that his dad was in rough shape he tried to ditch Rayette, yet the guy who told his girlfriend she was stupid and cheated on her at every possible turn actually got some resistance when attempting to leave her behind. What followed was a disaster for all parties, as Bobby suffered seeming endless hours of his woman’s banal nothing-talk whilst Rayette was tortured by an endless litany of insults and neglect.
When Bobby did arrive back home to his family’s veritable island retreat, secure from the peasants on the mainland, things only got worse. When in the company of his family, the one Bobby had shunned via his rough-neck lifestyle and rebellious non-concert-pianist ways, the degradation of Rayette only increased. Scorning the woman in front of his family, people the kind-hearted Rayette wanted only to please, Bobby was practically saying, “Yeah, look at this idiot. I’d even rather be with her than you.” Though partially her fault for putting herself in that situation, it’s hard not to sympathize with the woman, as nothing says “bad road-buddy” than an apparent addiction to scorn (and Bobby was hooked).
Though the crew didn’t know that they were getting dropped into the Golden Triangle, that they were contending with real guerrillas, guns, and booby-traps, this was no excuse for bringing along an unapologetic junky. Totally out of shape, jonesing for a score, and in possession of absolutely no qualms concerning the betrayal of his companions to get it, Jack Black’s Portnoy was a mess. Not that his company was much better: a lousier bunch of worthless prima donnas rarely found in a unified group on this planet.
Yet in Jack Black you almost expect more, as the mighty stallion usually comes to the table with awesome sauce practically leaking out of the screen. Instead, his character met perhaps his lowest point near the end of the second act, when, tied to a tree, he offered unthinkable services (gravy consumption included) for a quick fix. Helped in no small part after this by the bad-ass Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), Portnoy redeemed himself, and assisted in his comrades’ extraction from a heavily-armed heroin supply base. Given to lousy conversation, the slowest pace of the group, and a nasty habit of breaking ranks due to his crippling drug addiction, Black’s character was more than a tiny pain in the ass for all those around him during their faux-Vietnam adventure. And while you do tend to expect more from anything the man does, it’s good to see J.B. getting down and dirty every now and then, showing the world that he’s still in possession of the grandest sense of humor walking on two legs. Yet speaking of drug addicts, and the negative effects a junky can have on a trip, how could we leave this next pair out?
These two would have made it into higher contention had the two gotten into even more trouble, for by the end of the film and all their mayhem, Duke and Gonzo were on their way back to L.A.: seemingly none the worse for wear. Yet considering the Bazooko Circus adventure, police convention, and airport dash, there was plenty of mischief between these two, and depending on the day or hour, either one could have been more the handful Truly, it’s hard to rank Duke over Gonzo, or vice versa, as they both presented problems when traveling. With Duke, you had a journalist who ruined check-in simply because he couldn’t get a handle on the first rush of a fearsome acid push. You had a guy who didn’t know when to stop taking wildly dangerous hallucinogens procured from shady Satanist-connections, a guy who wasn’t above gate crashing airport runways to make flights (something that might have been okay in the early seventies, but would certainly get you shot nowadays).
Of course, with his attorney, you had regular bouts of projectile vomiting, crazy elevator knife freak-outs, even crazier midnight diner freak-outs, maid abductions, Montana-bumpkin druggings, and LSD adventures that bordered on voluntary homicide. Naturally, there was also the abuse of various car rental agencies, coconuts, hitchhikers, and hotel rooms: all of them irrevocably damaged after the briefest of encounters with the two men. So, because their unholy wrath extended to everything they touched when on business in Vegas, and because they did their worst when together, the pair got an honorable ranking as a shared tie. As it concerned the next entrant, however, there was no competition between him and his partner, the balance thrown heavily into the next man’s corner, his annoyance and deviancy unmatched by his companion or anybody else in the film…
Initially, Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) wasn’t going to get this close to the front of the list, yet someone actually died due to his miserable presence on the road, thus he got bumped past a few people. Once on the path towards Aspen with his best bud Harry (Jeff Daniels), Lloyd got to work slowly ruining every chance the pair had at success. Though the audience may have been initially optimistic about their chances at the beginning after learning that Lloyd raised a little extra dough for the journey (poor Petey), bad decisions at eateries along the way soon proved that Mr. Christmas was a wretched road companion indeed. Selling Harry down the river to a creature named ‘Sea-Bass’ by literally fingering him for a crime, he then went on to accidentally poison a man. Involuntary manslaughter aside, Lloyd still wasn’t much of a journeyman: his navigational skills piss-poor to say the least.
Lloyd got the pair stuck in Nebraska via a misguided right turn, only to then go on to sabotage his one friend in all the world in a laxative assault that shall go down in movie infamy. While credit should be given to Harry for being on a very comparable level of stupid for continually going along with Lloyd and his fumbles, it was the latter that pushed the insanity forward, the former usually just along for the ride. Much like the next traveling companion, though the people on the journey with him bore much of the responsibility for following so terrible a guide, really, what fun would the story be without…
There are probably a lot of LOTR fans out there that would contend with no lack of vigor that Smeagol was a splendid traveling companion, and that if nothing else, the guy was misunderstood (if admittedly a little evil). Hell, there’s even some weight you could throw behind that argument. The Stoor-bastard knew his way around a good fish and rabbit hunt, and certainly proved himself valuable when leading the heroes around the Black Gates and into Mordor’s back door via the Marshes. At the end of the day, however, it’s not how one plays the game, but how one finishes it that matters. Having betrayed Sam and Frodo for his “precious,” Gollum not only framed Sam for food-related crimes (an extra low-blow concerning the guy’s hefty waistline) but he arranged for the story’s hero to walk into absolute destruction at the hands of a giant spider!
Say what you will about Gollum’s eventual betrayal at the foot of Mt. Doom, or even his removal of Frodo’s finger with a savage hobo-bite at the end — that spider shit took it to a whole new level! Possessed of a lousy conversational disposition (talking to Gollum must have been like speaking to a mental institution escapee), even worse eating proclivities, and a nasty habit of trying to kill his traveling buddies at every turn, there’s little that can be said of this guy, especially when taking the spider trap into account. I mean, I know he was supposed to be one of the antagonists of this series, but shit! Say what you will about Sauron, at least the guy never tried to have anybody eaten by a mutant arachnid.
It doesn’t get a whole lot worse than this. True, two characters beat out Mr. Walken’s Gabriel as it concerns this list’s distinction, but really, the #1 spot could have gone to any of the three. It’s hard to argue against Gabriel as an absolute shithead as it concerns traveling companionship: the angel’s company so poor that his helper, Jerry (Adam Goldberg), was literally begging to be killed rather than endure more agony at the bastard’s side. It’s suggested that as punishment for a suicide attempt, Jerry was subsequently forced to endure indefinite slavery at the hands of Gabriel, an angel with a lot of anger and absolutely no sympathy for human misery. This combination of personality traits didn’t work out for Jerry, who spent the majority of the movie doing shitty, menial tasks for his master, one who couldn’t help but lay abuse on the un-dead helper at every turn.
Besides insulting Jerry, making him dig up corpses and attack humanity’s last hope, the guy had to endure what was almost certainly hours of Gabriel’s horrifying life-story. A veteran of an angelic holy war that probably made World War II look like a middle school brawl, Gabriel was less than chipper company. Throw this movie into the DVD tray again some time, and listen in detail to some of the shit that came out of Walken’s mouth during this flick. “I’m an angel. I kill firstborns while their mamas watch. I turn cities into salt. I even, when I feel like it, rip the souls from little girls, and from now till kingdom come, the only thing you can count on in your existence is never understanding why.” Shit! Who would want to drive ANYWHERE with him? Poor Jerry, indeed.
While I submit that the Blue Fairy assigned this little kill-joy the task of being the mutant wood-creature’s conscience, the assignment left a lot up to interpretation. While Jiminy played his conscience role more in the Calvinist tradition, I’d ask this: what was keeping the little bastard from following a different path as Pinocchio’s moral compass? Animated with life not even an entire day, and the pseudo-boy was already fielding offers to become a star! Granted, Honest John and Gideon were somewhat callous individuals, but that was a pair that knew how to get a kid into the industry! And really, isn’t this film just an honest representation of what it takes to emerge from the reeds into the big-time, overcoming peasant origins so as to become a star? Not that it followed through with this line, yet had Cricket been less of a pessimist and more of a positive agent for change, couldn’t the boy have demonstrated himself brave, truthful, and unselfish through other means?
Overcoming his first nasty encounter with fame, Pinocchio moved from Stromboli to a veritable Eden, a land where children were allowed to roam unsupervised, drink beer and smoke cigars! Two words: KICK ASS! Sure, the eventual donkey transformation sucked pretty badly, but for a while there, things were alright. Not that Jiminy Cricket gave a tinkers-damn, what with his incessant nay-saying and negativity. Sure, Pinocchio became a real little boy at the end, and all was well as the credits rolled, yet a near-Biblical struggle with a bloodthirsty whale was the toll that needed paying to get there. Had Jiminy pushed the kid to fully realize the potential selling power of an actual, talking puppet-boy, who knows what the pair could have accomplished sans-whale once they hit out on the road? It’s just sad.
This bitch was practically addicted to cutting our man Finch (Milton Berle) down! Knee-deep into a vacation and hot on the trail of a delicious fortune, this spiteful shrew could have chipped in with a little encouragement and even elbow grease, but no! At every opportunity, Mrs. Marcus (Ethel Merman) undermined or otherwise declared war on Finch’s intentions and endeavors. This bitch was so universally derided and loathed by the primary characters in this film, people who had known her for less than an hour already hated her. My favorite example of this is after Finch drove by/abandoned his one-time partner Lennie (Jonathan Winters), explaining afterwards that he was forced to do so by the heinous mother-in-law. Lennie calmly responded with words almost bordering on compassion, saying, “Listen, anything you got to say about your mother-in-law, you don’t have to explain to me. Like if she were the star of a real crummy horror movie, I’d believe it.”
Hell, even the British and assorted cab drivers got on the hating train: this bitch ruining pretty much everybody’s day the second she came into contact with them. That anybody would voluntarily submit to extended chunks of time with the jackal was astonishing, the blame going more on Milton Burle’s character for lacking the spine to cut her out of the vacation. While her prolonged rants about Finch’s failed seaweed business were heartbreaking, comeuppance was distinctly sweet, for the horrible nag took a banana peel right to slip-ville and fell hard on her ass in front of a gaggle of men more than delighted to see the bitch in pain. Thus, because Mrs. Marcus battled every good intentioned, well-meaning sap that was unfortunate enough to get in the way of her travels, because she made every person’s journey around her that much more miserable, because she did it in a way that seemed to indicate divine assistance in the endeavor, she got the distinguished #1 slot.