"The Pest" is a mess. What else would you call an attempt to fuse a left-of-center social satire with a "Dumb and Dumber" vulgarian slapstick mentality?
The frenzy runs deeper yet: That distant rumbling you hear is Joseph Connell, rotating in the grave over what has been done here to his famous story, "The Most Dangerous Game." Jeffrey Jones plays a laughably fanatical neo-Nazi hunter; John Leguizamo is the annoying human prey, nicknamed "Pest."
The entire muddle is undermined by an awkward current of bourgeois intolerance, which dismisses Leguizamo's anti-social eccentricities as merely colorful (the character is a petty crook) while wallowing in ethnic bigotries and gay-bashing jokes.
To call "The Pest" a "star vehicle" for Leguizamo is an understatement. The brilliant comic actor has the film in a stranglehold from the opening scene -- an audacious rap number, performed in the altogether -- and continues to throttle it until any pep the script might have had is gone. Leguizamo, however, remains buoyant to the end, as though he were draining vigor from the film if not from the audience itself.
Maybe that's why "The Pest" proved such a drain. Or maybe it's just because I have developed a low threshold of tolerance for gifted artists who deal in the "humor" of gastrointestinal distress and race-baiting when they could be making the world a better place to live. With this one, any claim to legitimate satire is specious, indeed.
Leguizamo seems to have started out on solid footing: What if, in some remake of that often-filmed "Most Dangerous Game," the hunter were a white supremacist seeking to bag a specimen of every ethnic group? But David Bar Katz's screenplay first underemphasizes the huntsman's quest for a specifically Latino victim -- and then overemphasizes the point with demeaning language.
At least Leguizamo tries to offend across-the-board. His dash for safety, impeded by a blatantly "sissy" character, proves so unsuspenseful that Leguizamo has plenty of time to ridicule Japanese businessmen, Orthodox Jews, African-Americans and so forth. Finally, the hunter forces Leguizamo out into the open, only to be thwarted by.
But that would be telling, and even a dud movie deserves to spring its surprises in its own time.
Starring John Leguizamo, Jeffrey Jones
Directed by Paul Miller
Released by TriStar
Rated PG-13 (nudity, crass humor, violence)
Sun score: * 1/2
Pub Date: 2/07/97