"They were basically left looking at us like, 'What the fuck did we inherit you for?' " says Resnick. He remembers a scene, shot in a Long Beach, California water tank that called for Elliott's character to drink seawater from a ladle while stranded on a small raft. Technically, the scene was a simple one, save for one little detail: The water in the tank had been stagnating for weeks — all manner of detritus floated on its surface. Technicians of varying degrees of cleanliness had been wading through the water for days, and, Elliott and Resnick were convinced, pissing in it. No one on the set could figure out how Elliott would pretend to drink the heinous stew without actually letting it pass his lips.
Elliott ended up tossing back ladles full of the water for as many takes as it took to get the shot. "I remember thinking, 'I'm killing myself right now over this movie. I am ingesting something that 10 years from now will have grown into a huge head of broccoli inside of me ¬all because of this movie," Elliott says. "And that thought crossed my mind when it opened, too."
When Resnick screened the first cut of the film, Jeffrey Katzenberg, then head of Disney's film productions, told him, "You're a sick fuck. That's the weirdest movie we've made." "He didn't say it in a mean way," Resnick says.
But the reviewers did. For an 80-minute comedy movie, Elliott says so much was cut from the film that "there's enough left over for a Boy II and III" — that cost about $10 million to make, Cabin Boy was greeted with strangely robust howls of vitriol. "Call this one 'The Nightmare After Christmas,' " wrote Variety, adding that the film was "as crude and gamy as the hold of an old fishing barge."
Kimmel, then a radio DJ in Tucson, Arizona, says that when, on-air, he called up Disney's marketing department to find out why the movie wasn't going to be released in his city, the executive that got on the phone told him, " 'Well, it's not very good.' "
Cabin Boy is more than a funny movie — which it is. It has as a high point David Letterman's only cinematic appearance — he is credited as Earl Hofert — a great verbal jousting match between Elliott's bewigged Fancy Lad and Letterman's cigar-chomping Old Salt. ("Don't let them give you any of that flank steak bullshit," Letterman tells Elliott at one point. "Try the London Broil.") And for what is essentially a Disney movie, Cabin Boy is remarkably un-homogenized. Even the movie's relatively happy ending (which depicts his character standing atop the actress Melora Walters as she swims off into the sunset) is memorable and weird.
In the 14 years since Cabin Boy was released, Elliott and Resnick have achieved a certain peace with the disaster and though they would have done a few things differently, they make no excuses for the final product. "I stand by that movie," says Elliott. And yet, they remain perplexed by the outrage that was leveled at them. They also haven't worked together since. "The reaction to Cabin Boy at the time was, we don't want more," Elliott says. "So, Adam and I went our separate ways, creatively, at least." Though they rarely see each other, Elliott says they communicate almost every day by phone or e-mail, "like girlfriends." "There's no one I work better with than Adam," he says. "And I don't think he works better with anyone else either.In the 14 years since Cabin Boy was released, Elliott and Resnick have achieved a certain peace with the disaster and though they would have done a few things differently, they make no excuses for the final product. "I stand by that movie," says Elliott. And yet, they remain perplexed by the outrage that was leveled at them. They also haven't worked together since. "The reaction to Cabin Boy at the time was, we don't want more," Elliott says. "So, Adam and I went our separate ways, creatively, at least." Though they rarely see each other, Elliott says they communicate almost every day by phone or e-mail, "like girlfriends." "There's no one I work better with than Adam," he says. "And I don't think he works better with anyone else either."
Maybe it's time for an independent film producer to reconsider them. Certainly it's time for Disney to consider releasing a more deluxe version of Cabin Boy — with deleted scenes and a filmmaker's commentary — than the comically bare bones version that's currently on the market. Over the last 14 years, the movie has grown a deserved broccoli-like cult following. "That movie is so big with awesome stoner musicians," says Andy Richter, who played the dim-witted, ill-fated first mate in the movie. When Richter worked as Conan O'Brien's sidekick on the current incarnation of Late Night, he says that bands booked on the show, often told him, "We watch it on the tour bus all the time." Indeed, when Courtney Love's band Hole played Saturday Night Live during the single season that Elliott was a cast member, she told him that Kurt Cobain was a big Cabin Boy fan. Elliott and Resnick occasionally appear at screenings of the movie sponsored, for instance, by The Onion, although both say they haven't watched the movie in its entirety since the cast and crew screening.
There would probably be a lot more Get a Life fans out there, too, if the complete series was commercially available. Elliott and Resnick say they've been to Sony, which owns the series, to record commentary for the first season of episodes, but have no control or say over when, how or even if it will be released. Calls to Sony were not returned at press time.
But although Elliott says he wishes he had a larger body of work to show to his children, he also admits that part of him likes it that comedy fans have to expend some energy to find much of his past achievements. "I'm not trying to compare my stuff to The Wizard of Oz," he says, but that movie seemed much more special when you could only see it once a year rather than own it on DVD. "My suspicion is that if these things were readily available, I think people would get fairly sick of me fairly quickly," he says.
Elliott prefers to focus on the future. Over the past few years, he has written two very funny comic novels that share the sensibility of his television work. He continues to work as a character actor in television and films. This fall, he'll appear with James Brolin on Law & Order: SVU. He's also still zinging Dave on Late Show with lines like, "Ma, spoke awfully slow on the farm, didn't she?" as well as taking off his clothes whenever duty calls. "I've seen more of his naked body than I have of my own brother," says Justin Stangel.
What's missing — and what he ought to have — is an HBO comedy series or a starring role in an independent film. And Elliott does admit that, "as pompous as it sounds," he would love to be able follow a path similar to the one taken by his hero Bill Murray. "I would love to be able to do something like Lost in Translation," he says. "I think that I could pull something off like that in a couple of years from now." Bobby Farrelly agrees. "That kind of a vehicle is down the road for him," he says. "And I think people will say, 'Wow. He's different than we thought. He's even better than he had ever been given credit for.' "
"Maybe," says Justin Stangel, "if he kept his shirt on a little more."
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