A periodic check-in on what’s going on in the world of movies that didn’t make it to theaters.
When I was 14 years old in 1990 I spent a month in a mental hospital for depression. It was not, I can assure you, a happy time, but I found some measure of escape in the Dave Barry books my father brought me. Barry’s genial literary hijinks pointed to a wacky, irreverent world beyond the cold, gray walls of the mental hospital, a world where dudes were dudes, women didn’t understand, and nothing was so tragic it couldn’t be alchemized into a good-natured chuckle or two.
I didn’t realize at the time that Barry himself had experienced his share of pain. His father was an alcoholic and his mother committed suicide, so there’s a lot of darkness behind the best-selling author and columnist’s genial zaniness. Yet a ridiculously fawning 1990 New York Times profile depicts Barry as a fundamentally happy man who has managed to overcome tragedy rather than as a tortured soul who has used humor to exorcise his demons. The profile argues that one of the cornerstones of Barry’s happiness lies in his relative lack of ambition, noting that Barry “steadfastly refuses even to consider writing for television or the movies; he admits to no ambition beyond what he has already achieved.”
But that was 1990, and a whole lot can change over a few decades. Barry’s writing was adapted for the small screen with the relatively successful sitcom Dave’s World, which ran for four aggressively undistinguished seasons, and for the big screen with 2002’s doomed Big Trouble and 2005’s even more disastrous Dave Barry’s Complete Guide To Guys. As someone who likes and admires Barry, I wish I was able to say Complete Guide To Guys is some weird cash-in done without his participation or consent, but I’m afraid Barry is front and center as the film’s executive producer, supplier of source material, narrator, and host. Making a sketch-comedy film without a single laugh or inspired idea is a team effort, but Barry shoulders most of the blame for the film’s all-consuming awfulness.
Dave Barry’s Guide To Guys opens with a fake-out that’s at once elaborate and tellingly cheap: The first few minutes are scored and shot like a thriller, though the fact that the snipers on a roof getting ready to take down their prey are wearing hats with “The Government” emblazoned on them is a bit of a giveaway, in more ways than one. But before these dedicated operatives of “The Government” can accomplish their important, manly work, they get distracted by a hot woman in a bikini showering. Why? Because they’re men. And men love boobs. That’s the kind of penetrating, nuanced insight into the intricacies of gender that distinguish the film.
Barry then addresses the camera directly to explain that the thwarted snipers suffered from a ubiquitous masculine condition known as “Lust Induced Brain Freeze” that afflicts millions of guys. Barry is quick to point out that this condition afflicts millions of guys rather than men. Men wage wars, kill tyrants, and create great art. Guys, in sharp contrast, drink beer, ogle boobs, and are reluctant to ask for directions. Barry is decent enough to let us know that we’re in for 75 shapeless minutes of corny sketches about broad caricatures of guys being guys in a testosterone-conducive environment, yet Dave Barry’s Guide To Guys looks and feels so tacky and cut-rate that its claim to be the product of a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer feels bogus, even though it’s not.
Barry then takes his camera out into Miami to ask ordinary residents—or rather, actors paid modestly to pretend to be ordinary Miami residents—what they think of guys. One woman angrily compares them to tapeworms before observing, “A tapeworm is more likely to help you clean out your garage.” So true! Professor Barry of The Axe Body Spray Spuds MacKenzie Institute Of Dude Stereotypes then presents a pair of case studies to help the audience understand the difference between guys and men.
In the first, some broad is running her mouth off about commitment or some such bullshit. Honestly, being a man, I tune out everything that doesn’t involve football and ’za. (That’s what I call pizza, because I no longer have the time or energy to spell “pizza” in its entirety. I save hours every month by employing this clever shortening technique, time that I then use to pursue my many passions and interests.) The man to whom she’s speaking (Lochlyn Munro) turns off sports and tells her he’s ready for commitment. This individual is most certainly not a guy! ’Cause he cares about emotions and stuff. We then cut to a dude whose partner is trying to engage him in a similarly heavy conversation about the future of their marriage, but this guy can only talk about football! Now this guy’s a guy. Cause he can’t stand the yap-yap-yap of women braying and loves football (and ’za, I would imagine, as well)!
This might not sound like brilliant, Pulitzer-worthy satire, but the film’s pornography-level production values and infomercial-broad mugging make Guys feel amateurish, despite appearances from the high-wattage likes of Lochlyn Munro. We then flash back millions of years to a prehistoric set clearly made from the flimsiest of cardboard and learn that even in cavemen times, women were all, “Yap, yap, yap! Complain, complain, complain!” while men were all, “Oh man, I cannot wait until they invent football and also beer. That will be the only thing that will render the infernal yacking of women-folk endurable.”
The film then skips clumsily through time, from colonial America to the 1970s, with vignettes illustrating that the behavior of guys has proven dispiritingly predictable through time, with detours to visit a “noted behavioral scientist” played by a slumming John Cleese, who explains that women have a gene “that gives them the need for meaningful conversation” while men have an equivalent gene that gives them a need for violence that must be channeled into productive outlets like “professional wrestling” and “running for president.”
Dave Barry’s Complete Guide To Guys is quietly despairing in its depiction of a world where genuine human connection between men and women is impossible because both sexes remain locked in a pattern of boorishly predictable behavior that puts them forever at odds. The guys in the film aren’t just immature or stunted; they’re horrible people whose obliviousness when it comes to the emotional needs of women often crosses the line into unintentional sadism, as when the lead woman in the film reminds the main dude (Munro) that they’ve been dating exactly six months and he turns moody and glowering as he contemplates how overdue his car is for routine maintenance. ’Cause that’s what dudes care about! Even when it renders them callous and cruel!
Barry’s writing has brought escape and, at the very least, modest amusement to millions throughout the decades, myself included, so I couldn’t help but feel for him as he boldly faces the camera and commits himself, with thoroughly misplaced conviction, to sketches that die horrible deaths once their premises are established (namely, that women yap about feelings and dudes are into ’za, sports, boobs, and cars), then linger on a few minutes longer like a chicken whose torso keeps twitching and shaking even after its head is cut off.
Barry is a genial and likeable presence, but there’s nothing he can do to save DOA sketches like this bit, where Barry and special guest Dan Marino do color commentary on a dude trying to take a piss in an airport bathroom without seeing another man’s penis. Because custom dictates that if you accidentally see a stranger’s penis while urinating next to him, you must then perform oral sex on said penis, then gay marry its owner in a lavish ceremony presided over by Rent star Anthony Rapp. And that, for whatever reason, is something the guys of Dave Barry’s Complete Guide To Guys do not want. Or at least are not yet ready to admit to themselves they desire more than anything in the world.
Dave Barry’s Complete Guide To Guys doesn’t just lack the complexity and sophistication of a superior narrative film; it lacks the complexity and sophistication of a beer commercial. Then, after subjecting audiences to 74 groan-inducing, laugh-free minutes of guys being terrible, Guys asks its panel of shrill, man-hating women a natural question: Why bother with guys at all?
At this point the film take a hilariously unconvincing turn to the sincere, when one of the women says that while guys may be insensitive and dumb and oblivious to anything that doesn’t involve boobs, ’za (that’s my clever shortening of the word “pizza” you might remember from an earlier paragraph), cars, and football, they sometimes illustrate basic human decency by doing things like bringing home food, and that makes it all worthwhile. This leads to the “conclusion”: Guys will never change, but it’s important to understand them, a process that can best be achieved by taking all your friends to the movie theater to see Dave Barry’s Complete Guide To Guys again and again. It’s the kind of corny uncle joke Guys specializes in, but there’s a certain sad irony in the fact that Complete Guide To Guys never made it to theaters before dying a richly merited death on home video (though I wouldn’t be surprised if it played for a week in Miami or some other place in Florida).
The movies have been as cruel to Barry as newspapers and books have been kind. Barry seemingly lucked out when Barry Sonnenfeld directed a star-studded adaptation of his bestseller Big Trouble, only to watch as the film was shelved for a good long time after 9/11, when it was determined that a wacky comedy that involves a nuclear device being smuggled onto an airplane probably wasn’t what audiences were looking for. Dave Barry’s Guide To Guy doesn’t have 9/11 to blame for its failure, but rather its own transparent awfulness. Barry is a good man and a good writer with the poor judgment to lend his name, presence, and material to one seriously bad movie.
Just how bad is it? Oh, it’s awful. Somehow even worse than it looks, and oh boy, does it look awful.