The Slammin' Salmon -- Film Review

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Once upon a time, specifically January 2001, Broken Lizard was poised to become the next big comedy supergroup a la Monty Python or the Kids in the Hall. But from the beginning, the numbers never really lived up to the hype. Now comes Broken Lizard's fourth big-screen effort, "The Slammin' Salmon."

Once again, it's unlikely to elevate them beyond cult status despite a timely premise -- a night in the life of a Zagat-approved upscale restaurant -- and a game ensemble cast that includes such comic ringers as Will Forte ("Saturday Night Live") and Carla Gallo ("Undeclared") in small roles.

Still, the movie offers enough solid laughs to ensure a decent audience on DVD and cable. That audience could have been even larger, however, were the proceedings just a little smarter and a whole lot funnier.

Taking place almost entirely within the titular seafood eatery owned and operated by ex-heavyweight champ "Slammin" Cleon Salmon (Michael Clarke Duncan, doing his best Tracy Morgan impression), "Salmon" at times feels more like a theatrical farce than a feature film.

The overarching narrative encompasses a restaurant's wacky wait staff, including a spineless house manager (Kevin Heffernan, also making his directorial debut), an aspiring actor (Steve Lemme) forced back into the table-service game after being fired from his big break and two requisite hot chicks (April Bowlby and "How I Met Your Mother" star Cobie Smulders). These workers scramble to bank $20,000 in one night to pay off a debt their boss owes to the Yakuza. That framework allows for lots of potentially hilarious interactions between the waiters and their eccentric clientele, from a pop-star diva (Vivica A. Fox) and her entourage to a solitary diner (Forte) who spends the entire evening reading "War and Peace" while nursing a cup of hot water with lemon.

All of this probably sounds far more amusing on paper than it plays out onscreen. And that's always been the fundamental problem with Broken Lizard as comedians: They settle for material that's just good enough rather than pushing themselves to create something genuinely inspired.

Despite being a team for almost two decades, they have yet to establish a unique comic worldview that would place them in the ranks of the Pythons and the Kids. To put it in foodie terms, "Salmon" is a decent appetizer, but you'll have to look elsewhere for heartier, more filling laughs.

Opens: Friday, Dec. 11 (Anchor Bay Films)
Production: Broken Lizard Industries, Cataland Films
Cast: Michael Clarke Duncan, Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske, Cobie Smulders, April Bowlby, Will Forte, Lance Henriksen, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Olivia Munn, Carla Gallo, Vivica A. Fox, Morgan Fairchild
Director: Kevin Heffernen
Screenwriters: Broken Lizard
Producer: Richard Perello
Executive producers: Peter E. Lengyel, Julia Dray
Director of photography: Robert Barocci
Production designer: Erich Schultz
Music: Nathan Barr
Costume designer: Tricia Gray
Edited: Brad Katz
Rated R, 98 minutes