By Daniel Barnes
If you have ever attended an NBA game, then you have probably seen some of the pre-taped bits starring the home team’s players that are shown throughout the game on the arena Jumbotron. Players exhort the crowd to cheer during timeouts, urge people to contact an usher if they need assistance, and sing Christmas carols during the holidays. Although these bits are updated to fit the moment and the season, they are all filmed in one day prior to the start of the preseason. The players are given clear direction and work off of simplified scripts, making it easy to knock out the segments in quick, almost robotic succession.
This is the reason star athletes in all sports tend to give unaffected performances and deliver monotonous line readings when they appear in films and on television, even when they are ostensibly playing themselves. Pro athletes have so many personal, professional, commercial, and charitable obligations that acting in a major motion picture becomes just another thing to check off the daily list. They are trained to go through the motions and plow through the scene, not to slowly discover their characters through improvisation and self-analysis.
I only bring this up because in the nearly ten-minute opening sequence of Kevin Elders’ cinematic toilet Simon Sez, the film’s star Dennis Rodman loops in his dialogue while his stand-in wears a yellow motorcycle helmet and matching bodysuit, and I briefly feared that Rodman neglected to show up for his own movie. At the end of the sequence, the point of which seems lost even to the screenwriters, the camera tracks in towards the mysterious motorcyclist as he takes off his helmet to reveal…gaaaasssp! Dennis Rodman! Who the fuck else? We’ve been listening to him for literally the entire film. Unless there was another tattoo-covered, body-pierced, frog-voiced, bleach-blonde, 6’7” African-American doing motorcycle stunts throughout the French Riviera that day?
For some reason emboldened by the lack of box office success of his 1997 Jean-Claude Van Damme buddy picture Double Team, Rodman jumped into the lead role of Simon Sez, a superspy action comedy too brain-dead to even qualify as a James Bond knockoff. Here is a sample of some typical dialogue:
Girl: Do you know what day it is?
Girl: It’s six days until I leave you.
Do you see how that ticking-clock plot business was seamlessly interwoven into the dialogue? That’s the kind of magic that can only be provided by four credited screenwriters, all of them presumably fronts for the Russian Mafia. The director of Simon Sez is Kevin Elders, who is best known for writing the screenplay to the original Iron Eagle, but who apparently got his start in Hollywood as an accountant (IMDB lists him as “assistant auditor” on Bob Fosse’s great Star 80, one of the best films of the 1980s – solid auditing, bro!). Elders also wrote a film called The Echelon Conspiracy, which I would have sworn I had never seen if not for this 2009 SN&R review. Reading my review of The Echelon Conspiracy, I’m most struck by my naïve liberal belief that Obama’s Presidency would render a film about domestic surveillance “outdated.” So who’s the hack now? (Answer: Kevin Elders.)
How late-1990s is Simon Sez? The MacGuffin is a compact disc. There is a plot involving an effete arms dealer and a kidnapped heiress, but any chance of the story taking hold is obliterated by the frantic, annoying, lowbrow shtick of Cook and Rodman’s flatulent gadgetmen. Simon Sez is a PG-13 action film with many murders and a sex-fight sequence, yet the comedy is pitched squarely at the prepubescent, couch-wetting set. Below is Cook’s idea of a goofy “take.” Rodman prefers to roll his eyes. Every actor in Simon Sez is directed to overplay their comedic hands. There are more double-takes here than in Hi Diddle Diddle (that joke makes sense and is funny, trust me).
However, the action scenes in Simon Sez are barely less numbing than the comedy scenes. That’s saying a lot when you consider that the film features both a quicksand sequence and an obese character that repeatedly refers to himself as “Free Willy.” Concepts of screen direction and matching shots seem to utterly baffle the incompetent Elders, and it doesn’t help that he is forced to make such liberal use of body doubles.
Rodman is thoroughly disengaged from Simon Sez, and his stand-in gets so much screen time that he should have sued for an above-the-title credit. A young and hungry Dane Cook co-stars as a bumbling doofus who enlists the help of Rodman’s Simon in rescuing his boss’s kidnapped daughter. It is abundantly clear that Elders encouraged Cook make up for Rodman’s lack of energy by going tremendously over-the-top in every scene. Words can’t even do justice to the resulting horror, but this YouTube video of Simon Sez “highlights” at least gives you an idea.
Skip to 1:01 to hear Dane Cook do a Chewbacca voice
Skip to 1:30 to watch Dane Cook act like a T-Rex (this sequence is three times as long in the actual film)
Skip to 1:54 to watch Dane Cook feign orgasm and say something disgusting about Drew Barrymore.
Skip to 2:12 to hear Dane Cook bark like a dog.
Skip to 2:33 to see Dane Cook curled in a fetal position.
Skip to 3:32 to hear Dane Cook make a Grey Poupon joke.
Skip to 3:43 to hear Dane Cook whine loudly.
Skip to 4:14 for the sex-fight scene (no Dane Cook here, but it’s really gross anyway)
Skip to 7:00 to watch Dane Cook pick his nose and waggle his tongue.
Skip to 8:10 to watch Dane Cook give the scene a little extra emphasis.
And that video doesn’t even include the scene where Cook shoots and kills a man point blank, and then giddily rolls around on the floor like a toddler. The Dane Cook that we see in Simon Sez was still five years away from becoming a household name (and ten years away from becoming a relic), so his horrendous mugging here can be largely blamed on a bad director enabling a desperate actor hungry for screen time. Cook is still on the hook for the rest of his wretched career, however, which in recent years has been plagued by reports of bizarre behavior and allegations of plagiarism. If Dane Cook is ever accused of lifting material from the God-awful Simon Sez, we will know that he has finally hit rock bottom.