Simon Sez (1999; Kevin Elders)
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 get 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 before 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 the act of appearing in a major motion picture becomes just another thing to check off the daily list. They get trained to go through the motions and plow through the scene, not to discover their characters through improvisation and self-analysis.
I only bring this up because, during the nearly ten-minute opening sequence of Kevin Elders’ cinematic toilet Simon Sez, the film’s star Dennis Rodman loops in his dialogue. At the same time, 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…Dennis Rodman! Who the fuck else? We’ve been listening to him for literally the entire film.
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 got 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.
“Frantic, Annoying, Lowbrow Shtick”
The director of Simon Sez is Kevin Elders, who is best known for writing the screenplay to the original Iron Eagle. However, he got his start in Hollywood as an accountant (IMDB lists him as an “assistant auditor” on Bob Fosse’s great Star 80). Elders also wrote 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 struck by the naïvetee in my 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. Still, any chance of the story taking hold gets obliterated by the frantic, annoying, lowbrow shtick of Cook and Rodman’s flatulent gadget-men. 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 gets 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 baffle the incompetent Elders, and it doesn’t help that he gets forced to make such liberal use of body doubles.
Rodman seems 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 to make up for Rodman’s lack of energy by going outlandishly over-the-top in every scene.
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). Therefore, his atrocious mugging here can get blamed on a hack director who enabled 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 ever gets accused of lifting material from the God-awful Simon Sez, we will know that he finally hit his rock bottom.
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Categories: Dare Daniel Classic