‘Boat Trip’ Cruises Fine Line of Funny Stereotypes

‘Boat Trip’ Cruises Fine Line of Funny Stereotypes
By Mike Szymanski
March 21, 2003

Stereotypes can be funny. That was evident when “Barbershop” became one of the funniest runaway hit comedies of last year. The wit is sharp, self-deprecating and shocking, and ironically got protested by African American leaders even though the film was made, directed and produced by black people.
Likewise, the runaway hit comedy of this year, “Bringing Down the House” deals with racial stereotypes and prejudices, especially by one character, Betty White. But it’s a starring vehicle for Queen Latifah, the only African American nominated this year for an Academy Award.

Playing off stereotypes is tricky, and sensitive. Certainly no one in the Greek community waged a protest of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” last year when their stereotypes became the most successful independent film in history. No PC police came around to say that not all Greek women have moustaches and not all Greek fathers believe that Windex is a cure-all.

So now there’s “Boat Trip” starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Horatio Sanz about two hetero guys who get stuck on a gay cruise. Although the watchdogs for homophobia at GLAAD signed off on the project, and although gay men were involved in the project, some of the PC police have reared their heads to say they plan to protest the film because of the way it stereotypes gay men.

However, the people who should be protesting are the busty blonde women of Sweden, because they’re the butt of more stereotypic jokes in this film than gay men — and they’re made to look low-class, slutty and dumb. Somehow, that lobby just doesn’t seem to have enough of the same boycott clout.

The biggest problem with “Boat Trip” is that it gets to the point of being so outlandish it goes beyond funny. Like Gooding’s ensemble comedy “Rat Race,” the absurdity builds on top of absurdity, but eventually, you’re chuckling at something. In that one if the cow tied to a balloon didn’t get you laughing, the visit to the Barbie Museum did. In this one, if the spanking in the steamroom doesn’t make you laugh, then the prayers of the Swedish sun-tanning team may.

Gooding’s character, Jerry, has broken up with his girlfriend, so his best friend Nick, played by the “SNL” regular Sanz, convinces his lovelorn buddy to go on a cruise, where he hears that women are plentiful. After a run-in with a rogue travel agent, played by an uncredited Will Ferrell, the guys find themselves on a gay cruise line where sex runs rampant — but it’s not the kind of sex the guys had in mind.

Jerry gets saved after falling in the pool, and given mouth-to-mouth, by a beautiful lifeguardess, Gabriella, played by Roselyn Sanchez. He says it’s the most passionate kiss he’s ever had, and they quickly hang out together, and he pretends he’s gay so she doesn’t feel threatened.

Meanwhile, Nick shoots a flare gun in the air and brings down a helicopter that is holding the Swedish sun-tanning team made up of Amazon-tall voluptuous blonde gals who ooze sensuality. But, they have a dwarfish, short-haired female coach who tries to keep guys away from the girls. They think they’re safe because of the gay cruise, but they’re not safe from Nick.

Then, the girlfriend who originally broke up with Jerry, (the often over-the-top Vivica A. Fox from “Soul Food”), locates him and tries to reunite by surprising him and joining the cruise. Of course, it’s going to get silly.

Obviously, nothing is supposed to be taken seriously. Taken on face value, the variety of gay men on the cruise run the gamut from the flamboyant Latino drag queen in the next door cabin to the macho elder stateman former military man played by Roger Moore, who seems to be spoofing and outing his James Bond who starred in “Octopussy” and six other Bond films. The gay men included beefy multi-dyed hair muscle boys as well as leather studs and guys who are doctors, firemen and police officers. Most are exaggerated, but those are the most fun.

“Want a bite of my sausage? In England they call it bangers,” coos Moore to Nick in a scene that will have Bond lovers squirm. Then, he later confesses to being in the armed forces and serving “the real Queen” for 32 years and also being good at Japanese flower arranging.

Some stereotypes get dry for anyone, however. When getting “gay lessons” from the drag queen next door, Jerry is asked to give the nickname to Bette Midler, describe his Brandy Alexander drink and know the words to “I Will Survive.” With “Will and Grace” and “Queer as Folk” becoming so mainstream, gay education is prevalent, so some stereotypic jokes just fall flat.

The funnier interactions, however, are between Jerry and Gabriella, like when she asks him for oral lessons and she demonstrates her techniques on a banana. Later, she teaches him how to dance, because he dances like a straight man — and she hopes to teach him a few other things as well.

The reality is that having a bevy of beautiful woman on a gay cruise doesn’t make the guys safe, and certainly no one’s bisexual tendencies are mentioned or explored openly. Writer and director Mort Nathan knows better than to confuse too much political correctness with humor, especially involving sexual fluidity. He’s written for shows that busted stereotypes on groundbreaking socially-conscious shows such as “Alice,” “The Golden Girls” and “Archie Bunker’s Place.”

That’s why he makes straight-laced Jerry a guy who walks his dog Rocko in a snappy pressed white suit, so that his best buddy could later wonder about his sexuality because he always dresses so nice, likes foreign films and is in really good shape. Lovesick Jerry, meanwhile tells Rocko, “You don’t care because you can lick your own balls.”

The film has its steamy sex scenes — between a guy and a girl, believe it or not — while Jerry and Gabriella go to a romantic secluded spot on an island, and when they do their own dirty dancing together. Then, there’s the odd sex scenes involving a fire extinguisher and the coach’s demonstration with a bat — yikes!

One of the principals does question his sexuality when he gets drunk with his new gay pals — but for the most part, the comedy and the storyline is safe for people of any persuasion. And, the jokes are not insider enough to make you feel uncomfortable about laughing at them. You laugh, if you don’t take it seriously, but how could you? It’s a wigged-out Love Boat where anything goes, and you’ll laugh as you see the characters take titanic turns along the way.

It’s worth watching Roger Moore lisping, “How did you know I like to be humiliated?” And perhaps it’s worth watching Cuba dress up in drag to sing “I’m Coming Out.”

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