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I Watched This On Purpose: Witless Protection

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: The A.V. Club's own estimable Steven Hyden gave Witless Protection a rare F, though I admit that I was so jealous that Steve got to review Witless Protection that I hired a hitman to off him. Then I realized I'd overreacted, and I ordered the hitman to take Steve out for an ice-cream sundae. So Steve, let me know if a scary hitman-looking dude didn't take you out for ice cream shortly after your Witless Protection review. I might still be able to get my money back.

Steve's pan was even more bewildering considering his review was accompanied by the attached photograph.

How can any film with the image of Larry The Cable Guy holding a camouflage baseball hat over his genitals not be hilarious? C'mon: the hat, the genitals, the guy with the rubber glove in the background. It works on so many levels! The rest of the liberal, Jew-run media shared Hyden's contempt for the film: Its Metacritic score is a paltry 17. In comments which I lazily harvested from the film's Metacritic page, The Boston Globe's Ty Burr derided it as "harmless dum-dum stuff," while The New York Times hissed, "The slapstick and set pieces are lame, and its performances range from competent to annoying." Clearly all these fancy-pants critics were wrong. It's up to me to trumpet from every mountaintop the overlooked genius of Larry The Cable Guy.

Curiosity factor: I've long been fascinated by the cult of Larry The Cable Guy, the hillbilly (I'm sorry: Rural-American) alter-ego of a struggling Nebraska stand-up comic named Daniel Laurence Whitney. Yes, that's right, Larry The Cable Guy shares a home state with Dick Cavett, though if Cavett's equally broad character "Billy Bob The Flatulent Plumber" had taken off, I think we'd all view Cavett a lot differently today. A lot of people have difficulty separating comedians from their stage personas. Woody Allen, for example, is actually a strikingly handsome 7-foot-tall Swedish man. Yet he's so convincing as that nebbishy "Woody Allen" guy that people often mistake him for the character he's playing.

I nurse a similarly inexplicable fascination with Jenny McCarthy, particularly her performance in Dirty Love. (Hey, there's a movie one of my colleagues should totally watch on purpose.) Whenever I feel sad or anxious, I just think about the scene in Dirty Love where McCarthy slips around in a giant pool of her own menstrual blood, and a sense of beatific calm sweeps over me. Ahhh, bliss. What happens when these two comic geniuses collide? I was about to find out.

The viewing experience: But before finding out, I decided to watch a special feature on the DVD called "Larry's Use of the Analogy." I was worried that a lot of the film's humor would fly over my head (I'm one of those dum-dums that doesn't even have a post-graduate degree), and I figured this feature would act as a Rosetta Stone to help me understand the subtleties of Mr. Guy's sophisticated comic sensibility. Mere non-Larry The Cable Guy words cannot do justice to this dissertation on wordplay and cat-eating jungle babies, so here's the entire special feature for your edification. You're welcome.

I was now prepared to drink in the cinemagic of Witless Protection. The film casts Larry as a humble, working-class guy named Larry who dreams of becoming an FBI agent, yet toils as a humble backwoods cop. McCarthy co-stars as Larry's girlfriend, a scantily clad, kiss-my-grits waitress Larry lovingly describes as "big-titted and quick-witted." (She lives up to at least half of that description.) The screenplay subtly conveys that Larry dreams of bigger things by giving him dialogue like "Yeah, I do dream of bigger things."

That bigger thing arrives in the form of a mysterious woman (Ivana Milicevic), whom Larry hails as "hotter than an electric prod on a hog's ass." (I recently learned that's what's called an "analogy.") Larry sizes up the mystery woman as a hostage (why else would she be accompanied by large, suit-wearing black man Yaphet Kotto?) and decides to rescue her, in spite of McCarthy begging him to fuck her instead. (Mmmmm, that's good realism!) I should probably point out that Larry, did not, in fact, write the screenplay. Here's the white-trash Gable and Lombard in action:

Who can unravulate the mysteries of women indeed? Later, the self-described "sweev and de-boner" lawman tries to rescue Milicevic, only to learn that she doesn't want to be rescued, especially after he promises to "execute a flawless ejaculation." At this point, I laughed so hard, I was gasping for air. Then I realized I wasn't laughing at all, and my breathing returned to normal.

When Milicevic impatiently tries to explain that she isn't a kidnap victim and her "kidnappers" are actually FBI agents protecting her so she can travel to Chicago to testify against slumming bad guy Peter Stormare, Larry figures she has "Stockyard Syndrome" and has been brainwashed. Clearly, only two things can improve this scene: fart jokes and incongruous swipes at liberals. Both are forthcoming.

The two become a mismatched pair on the run. Milicevic is a fancy lady who uses words like "venality" and "chicanery." Larry is, well, Larry, with his genius for mangling the English language and his undying love of sleeveless flannel shirts. It's like Midnight Run, only terrible.

You know, I could set up this next clip, but I think it's best experienced blind.

Milicevic asks to be returned to Kotto, but Larry decides that Kotto is corrupt and insists on taking Milicevic to Chicago himself, so the movie doesn't end after a merciful 30 minutes.

People have accused Larry of being culturally insensitive or even racist, but the following scene, where Larry engages in a delicate dance of cross-cultural communication with an immigrant motel proprietor, should put all that talk to rest. I hope you feel ashamed of yourself, David Cross.

What's that? You'd like to see an out-of-context clip of Larry the Cable Guy vomiting, then sifting through his own puke, followed by Larry The Cable Guy near-nudity? Your wish is my command.

As the film heads into its third act, the Milicevic/Larry banter gives way to action-movie machinations, as Stormare and his goons attempts to stop Milicevic from testifying against him. We do learn, however, about the tragic obesity of Larry's sister. Apparently she's so portly that she went to the racetrack wearing a Goodyear T-shirt, and a pilot crawled up her ass and tried to fly her. That's the kind of tender touch that really humanizes Larry's character.

This piece is already running too long and I'm getting the "wrap-it-up" hand-signal from Keith, but I wouldn't want to spare you the sight of Larry repeatedly punching an ostensibly dead woman in a comical manner.

For all you film majors out there, this is what your professors mean when they talk about "The Lubitsch Touch." Oh, and that is Joe Mantegna in a crazy fright wig as a swishy doctor with the aforementioned morbidly obese wife. How come Mamet never writes him parts that good?

Mantegna's hometown and my own beloved city gets a nice little showcase in this surprisingly sweet clip illustrating what Chicago looks like through the eyes of Larry The Cable Guy.

Though only time will tell if Larry's character ever gets to achieve his dream of getting "a nut rub from Scarlett Johansson," he emerges victorious, foiling Stormare's evil plot and impressing both the FBI agents (who offer him a job) and Milicevic, who gives him a peck on the cheek. But Larry rejects the FBI's offer and returns to his humble hometown and the promise of a lifetime of hot sex with Jenny McCarthy. The man truly is a saint.

How much of the experience wasn't a total waste of time? About 50 percent. In the early going, Witless Protection is the kind of shameful, cornball, proudly offensive guilty pleasure I'm secretly excited about getting to review on a regular basis. But as the film drags on interminably (is there any reason this couldn't have run 80 minutes instead of 97?) the guilt-to-pleasure ratio tilts heavily toward guilt. If they'd thrown in some of McCarthy's trademark menstrual-blood-based slapstick, however, I suspect the final statistic would have rocketed up to 100.