The Amateurs

It would be easy as hell to tell you what a comic shambles The Amateurs is, but I had too good a time to let it bother me. Writer-director Michael Traeger sets his freaky fable in Butterface Fields, a small American town (pop. 3,149) that could pass for Mayberry if the menfolk there decided to pass the time by making a porn flick. For Andy Sargentee (Jeff Bridges), who has lost a series of jobs and his wife (Jeanne Tripplehorn), amateur porn is a growth industry and a chance to pursue a better destiny.

Before you can say, "What the fuck," Andy has recruited his pal Some (Joe Pantoliano, in sweet mode) as the writer-director. Some, short for Some Idiot, has taken film courses at a junior college. Emmett (Patrick Fugit), the kid from the video store, will do the camerawork. Barney (Tim Blake Nelson) will handle press. Moose (Ted Danson), who denies he's gay, offers to provide stud service. And Otis (William Fichtner), who calls Moose what he is ("assmaster"), just wants to hang out and escort the "porno peacherinos" to their next hump. He is named executive producer.

You'll notice that the actors are way overqualified for this nonsense. But the kick they get out of one another is what pulls you in. Traeger's script does more than strain credulity, it administers multiple fractures. Still, it's hard not to laugh when the boys decide their film needs "carpet munching, black men with elephant dicks and a half-dozen guys unloading on a gal until she looks like a melted candle." You won't be surprised to learn that they fall far short of their goals.

Though The Amateurs talks a kinky game about "the big porno weenie," it's no more shocking than The Full Monty or other pop entertainments your Aunt Bee can see without a blindfold. As Andy re-arranges his film into something to make the town and his son (Alex D. Linz) proud, visions of a spin on It's a Wonderful Life with babes who, in the words of Some Idiot, "get boned and give head," go out the window. You may expect group sex, but what you get is a group hug.

From The Archives Issue 114: August 3, 1972