Alphonso McAuley, Andrew Caldwell, Adam Ray, Jonathan Kite and Josh Zuckerman in The Bellmen (Photo: Park Avenue Creative)
★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Cameron Fife
STARS Adam Ray, Josh Zuckerman
Like one of those affable slobs played by Bill Murray in such films as Stripes and Meatballs, Steve (Adam Ray) doesn’t have much in the way of ambition. He started at the King Saguaro Hotel in Arizona as a bellboy and, after 27 years on the job, has managed to work his way up to … bell captain, in charge of ordering around all the other bellmen.
Steve is the central character in The Bellmen, a comedy that offers a decent hook, a fine roster of actors, and a scarcity of genuine laughs. Its humor deficiency isn’t for lack of trying — on the contrary, there’s rarely a moment when scripters Cameron Fife (who also directed) and Jason Adler (who also co-stars) aren’t going for the guffaws. It’s just that the hit-to-miss ratio is woefully anemic, with the picture managing only a few modest chuckles amidst all the mirthful misfires.
As the film opens, Steve has chosen the awkward Josh (Josh Zuckerman) as the new B.I.T. — that is, Bellman in Training — and orders him to pass certain tests that will allow him to become a full-fledged bellman alongside established employees Brad (Jonathan Kite), Tyler (Andrew Caldwell) and JJ (Alphonso McAuley). While Josh learns the ropes (tip: stay clear of the valets), Steve is busy flirting with head concierge Kelly (Kelen Coleman) while avoiding pesky upper-management stooge Alan (Willie Garson). Assuming that Kelly won’t return his affections unless he proves himself worthy, Steve lies to her by stating that he’s been promoted to assistant manager. His friend and manager Michael (Adler) agrees to help keep the fib afloat, but a major distraction arrives in the form of Gunther Gochamonet (Thomas Lennon), a spiritual guru who’s described as “the closest thing we have to a god on Earth” and who has chosen the King Saguaro as the site for his latest self-help seminar. Steve correctly guesses that Gunther is a fraud, and he figures his status around the resort will be elevated if he can expose the shifty sage.
A light-hearted romp focusing on bellmen is certainly promising, following in the tradition of such working-stiff efforts as Caddyshack and Car Wash. And this cast is certainly more than capable: Ray makes for a likable lead, Kite displays some deft comedic moves, Adler invests his character with the proper mix of cockiness and concern, and Garson (best known for playing Stanford Blatch on Sex and the City) nimbly steals scenes as the exasperated comic foil. It’s just a shame the overall movie isn’t funnier. There are some choice moments (the birthday cake, the identity of “Banky,” the entire Mexican interlude), but they’re overshadowed not only by an overreliance on the usual dude-bro humor so prevalent (and so tiresome) in the 21st century but also by select gags that are meant to be out there but are merely awful (the puppets that pop up everywhere, the shirt-wearing cactus, etc.).
Also detrimental to the picture’s success is the decision to allow Gunther and his spiritual scam to take over the narrative. Satirizing New Age retreats may have been fresh when Paul Mazursky tackled it in the late 1960s (Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, reviewed here), but it was already growing moldy when Michael Ritchie dismantled it in the mid-‘70s (Semi-Tough, reviewed here). At this point, it’s hard to mine more than a thimble of humor out of this premise. Worse, the exposure of Gunther doesn’t even lead to a clever gotcha moment. Instead, the climactic scene involves his apprehension via lots of paperwork — hardly the most exciting way to nail a denouement.
(The Bellmen is now available on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Vudu, and other streaming services.)