Sometimes, even The A.V. Club isn't impervious to the sexy allure of ostensible cultural garbage. Which is why there’s I Watched This On Purpose, our feature exploring the impulse to spend time with trashy-looking yet in some way irresistible entertainments, playing the long odds in hopes of a real reward and a good time.
Cultural infamy: Ed currently holds down the #82 spot on the IMDB’s reader-generated list of the 100 worst films of all time. It didn’t fare any better with critics: It boasts a 0 freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In a less-than-ecstatic review, New York Times critic and fancy-pants big-words user Stephen Holden wrote, “The movie does not augur a major film career for [Matt] LeBlanc, a star of the NBC hit series Friends. The handsome actor is so blank that the only impression he makes is of having teeth that are very large and unnaturally white.” The film was nominated for three Razzie Awards, and if the torturously titled tell-all Hooking Up: You’ll Never Make Love In This Town Again Again is to be believed—and why would prostitutes writing a sleazy book about celebrities under pseudonyms possibly lie?—it drove LeBlanc to freebase cocaine and hire prostitutes to put on sex shows for him in a desperate attempt to purge memories of the film from his drug-addled psyche. In conclusion, Ed was not warmly received.
Curiosity factor: I love baseball. I love primates, from the loftiest mountain gorilla to the lowliest marmoset. I love bad movies. I am somewhat tolerant of Matt LeBlanc. So I am, in theory at least, the perfect audience for a bad movie about a baseball-playing chimpanzee, starring Matt LeBlanc. Given Ed’s reputation as one of the worst films ever made, I wondered just how bad it could possibly be. I found out. Oh, did I find out.
The viewing experience: In its own curious way, Ed is a miracle. A shitty, shitty miracle. At every step of the way, someone could have prevented this film from happening. Screenwriter David M. Evans could have stopped halfway through and decided that the world really didn’t need a movie about a flatulent, cross-dressing athlete chimp. The script could have been rejected by a production company for being mind-bogglingly, inconceivably terrible. A studio executive could have put Ed in turnaround or nixed it entirely. The producers could have recoiled at the design of the creepy, unintentionally frightening chimpanzee puppet, or watched dailies and abruptly halted production. Once the film was made, it could have been given a richly deserved direct-to-video burial.
But none of that happened. In a mind-boggling display of bad judgment, considerable time, money, and resources were expended to create, then theatrically distribute this abomination. Even more surprisingly, Ed managed to snag one of the stars of Friends, one of the most successful sitcoms of the last 20 years, as its lead. (True, he was the crappiest Friend, but a Friend nonetheless.) LeBlanc must have read the script and thought “Doing this film will be good for my career. I believe in this project. This role could make or break me as a leading man, so I’m going to say yes. It’s a gamble, sure, but I desperately want to tell this tale and go on this emotional journey.” LeBlanc was undoubtedly compensated well for the role, but he was already wealthy, thanks to Friends. If he’d held out for a salary commensurate with the loss of dignity the role entailed, he’d be the first actor given a nine-figure upfront salary for his first lead role in a film.
But enough about the bizarre twists of fate that led to Ed getting made by a major studio and released theatrically. Let us contemplate the piece itself. Ed opens with LeBlanc trying out for a pair of baseball scouts. The hayseed he plays has never played baseball competitively in his life—no semi-pro experience, no college ball, no high school, not even a single Little League game—yet he has a hundred-mile-an-hour fastball, plus amazing control that wins him a one-way ticket to the minor leagues.
This would be enough of a high-concept premise for most shitty comedies—naïve farm boy with zero experience discovers he’s a pitching whiz with a killer fastball—yet LeBlanc’s unlikely origins are never mentioned again. The script introduces this hokey setup, then instantly abandons it for an even stupider, even more high-concept premise.
For a baseball movie, Ed knows jack shit about baseball. When LeBlanc struggles with his curveball, teammate James Caviezel (yes, before he was Jesus, he played on a minor-league team with a chimpanzee) tries to console his teammate by reassuring him, “Look at a guy like Carlton Fisk. He couldn’t even get arrested in Boston. He moves to Chicago, changes his number, and where’s he headed now? That’s right: Cooperstown.”
As a longtime Chicago White Sox super-fan, that is the stupidest shit I’ve ever heard. Sure, Fisk had many of his peak years in Chicago, but he was a rock star in Boston. He was Rookie Of The Year and a Golden Glove winner, he hit for power, and he had an arm like a cannon. Oh, and he hit the most famous home run in Red Sox history in the 1975 World Series. Oh well, it’s not as if audiences for baseball movies know anything about baseball.
LeBlanc’s struggling fireballer gets the shock of a lifetime when he’s dispatched by manager Jack Warden—a two-time Oscar nominee whose wry, paternal performance is better than the film deserves—to retrieve the team’s new “player” and he meets Ed, a mischievous chimpanzee recruited as a mascot by the publicity-hungry team. In this clip, LeBlanc discovers just what a rascal his future teammate/roommate can be:
While the first scene in which Ed behaves like an obnoxious jerk and LeBlanc acts mildly exasperated may be agonizingly dull, the subsequent 15 repetitions are hilarious.
Ah, but Ed has a secret: he plays a mean third base and throws so fast, he burns a hole through a first baseman’s glove.
But back to the interspecies odd-couple action: In this clip, the filmmakers travel a long, arduous, painful path to the comic nirvana that is LeBlanc huffily announcing “I’m gonna spank that monkey!” after putting up with more of his primate teammate’s monkeyshines. In a role that expands his cute-dumb-guy persona by neither leaps nor bounds, LeBlanc is so convincing as a rube that I began to wonder if he really was mentally challenged.
Ed’s a baseball champ, but will his subhuman status keep him out of the minors? No! In one of the fixtures of the thriving animal-sports genre, when a competing coach challenges Ed’s right to play professional baseball, one of his teammates volunteers, “There’s no rule saying a player has to be of homo sapien origin!” That’s right, motherfucker. And there’s no rule saying that a donkey can’t kick field goals, or that an anteater can’t play rugby. In this scene, Ed makes a spectacular debut with an unassisted triple play. The spit take from the fat guy is an especially subtle touch. The clip after that works better devoid of context.
Ed’s talent and animal charisma (wordplay!) makes him a national celebrity and lands him on the cover of everything from Sports Illustrated to Teen Beat. Yet he inexplicably remains a minor-league baseball player who shares not only a room but a bed with LeBlanc, for reasons the filmmakers leave tantalizingly, erotically ambiguous.
After getting off to a bad start, LeBlanc and Ed—two big, dumb animals who love playing baseball—become fast friends. So when Ed is sold, LeBlanc retrieves him from captors who inexplicably lock him in a cage and put him in a clown suit, when they could, you know, make untold millions having him play baseball. Yes, friends, I never thought I’d write this, but Ed’s commitment to verisimilitude begins to falter in its third act. Ed suffers a serious injury during his time in captivity, and he appears to be comatose, yet he miraculously comes back to life when a little girl prays for his return to the ballpark.
In a stunning reversal, LeBlanc saves the day by striking out a fearsome slugger and winning the big game. He’s recruited to the majors and rides off into the sunset with his arbitrary love interest, the little girl who never stopped believing in him, and the chimpanzee he’s now proud to call his best friend. The character has the obligatory happy ending, but the actor’s film career never recovered; Ed is an albatross around his neck to this day. I bet freebasing prostitutes still ask him, “Hey, aren’t you that guy from Friends and that movie with the baseball-playing chimpanzee?” It didn’t help that he went on to star opposite Blarp The Magical Space Monkey in Lost In Space. Then again, Ronald Reagan went from playing second fiddle to a monkey to being the most powerful nap-and-jellybean enthusiast in the world. Still, it’s probably a little early to stick homemade “LeBlanc For President” signs in your front yard.
How much of the experience wasn't a total waste of time? 0 percent. It somehow manages to be even worse than a Matt LeBlanc vehicle about a flatulent, cross-dressing, athlete chimpanzee has any right to be. Ed more than lives down to its dire reputation. Baseball, chimpanzees, and movies deserve better. Hell, even the dumb guy from Friends deserves better. And he’s fucking terrible in this.