Ryder P.I. [DVD]
Screenplay : Karl Hosch, Chuck Walker, Dave Hawthorne, & Bob Nelson
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1986
Stars : Dave Hawthorne (Skylar Ryder), Bob Nelson (Eppie), Frances Raines (Valerie), John Mulrooney (Gang Leader), Joe Rishkofski (Diaz), Eddy Bramberg (Sarge)
Ryder P.I. is an excruciatingly unfunny comedy about a couple of inept private detectives. The movie was an amateur production shot on video in the mid-1980s by a group of comedians from Long Island who couldn't break into movies any other way than to make one themselves. Unfortunately, no one involved in the production seems to have known anything about filmmaking or, more importantly, how stand-up schtick can (and cannot) be incorporated into a feature-length movie.
Ryder P.I. would have disappeared a long time ago into the annals of forgotten amateur efforts except that it features a cameo by Howard Stern, who was then just beginning his career as a radio DJ at K-Rock in New York City. Stern's cameo is incredibly brief and not terribly good--he plays an angry news reporter named Ben Wah who spends less time reporting the news that he does editorializing his complaints about his job (he doesn't like the fact that he has to read from paper rather than a teleprompter or that his desk is just inches from the set of a cooking show). Stern aficionados will certainly enjoy this blast from the past, especially as it absolutely confirms just how goofy Stern looked in those days, with his moustache, near-bouffant hairdo, and three-sizes-too-big glasses.
Of course, Stern's cameo takes up about four minutes in a 92-minute movie, leaving 88 minutes to either skip entirely or, if you're up to it, suffer through. For those interested, the rest of the movie follows the rambling, aimless adventures of Sky Ryder (Dave Hawthorne), an inept private detective, and his even more inept partner, Eppie (Bob Nelson). Ryder is fairly nondescript as a character, even though he was obviously written as a parody of hard-boiled detective types. Eppie, on the other hand, is intended to be a goofy counterpart to Ryder's misguided professionalism, but he comes across like a bad (meaning both ineffective and potentially offensive) caricature of someone with mental disabilities.
The screenplay, co-written by the two directors, Karl Hosch and Chuck Walker, and stars Dave Hawthorne and Bob Nelson, is a shaggy piece of work with no real direction or purpose other than to drag Ryder and Eppie around various New York locations where they run into an endless array of wacky people who are played by New York-based stand-up comedians. The movie's main problem is that it confuses stand-up comedy with movie comedy, thus relying on stand-up routines for not only most of its jokes, but also for its characters. Thus, when Ryder and Eppie are inexplicably sent to computer school, they find that the teacher, Professor Throck-Morton (Bob Woods), is a wildly coiffured goofball who likes to do impressions of the Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton characters from The Honeymooners, as well as Carol Channing and Red Foxx. Any particular reason? Does this somehow add to the plot? Is it even very funny? The answer to all of these is "no," but Woods likely used these routines in his stand-up work, so it winds up in the movie.
The rest of the humor in Ryder P.I. doesn't fare much better, especially the verbal wordplay that relies largely on bad puns and groaners. For example, when Throck-Morton asks Ryder and Eppie if they are there for their orientation, Eppie replies, "I've never been to the Orient." Or, my personal favorite is when, in his caricatured hard-boiled voice-over narration, Ryder says that he will set up a stakeout that night, which he follows up with "That reminds me, I forgot that steak out on the kitchen counter last night. That oughta smell real good by the time I get home." There is also, naturally, a few attempts at gross-out humor, such as the scene in which a woman in Ryder's apartment building makes breakfast for all the tenants, and proceeds to drop several sausages into the cat litter box, dig them out, and serve them. The writers even manage to work a chimpanzee named Zippy into the story. Why? Who knows, except that this is the kind of movie where a chimp dressed in human clothes who thinks he's a duck is supposed to pass for humor.
One of the worst running jokes in the film is Throck-Morton's computer, the Leroy 1000, which doesn't have a keyboard because, as Ryder explains, "it communicates with the latest computer-generated graphics and synthesized voice recognition, whatever that means." Well, what that means is the computer is a silly excuse to include a cheap-looking Muppet named Leroy as the computer's graphics interface. The computer was previously owned at various times by (1) the CIA, (2) a public-access TV station, and (3) a welfare agency, which explains (1) why Leroy knows important classified information that is relevant to explaining the plot, (2) why he is a Muppet, and (3) why he speaks in an African-American urban dialect (the immediate association between African Americans and welfare dependence is a good marker of the movie's distance from any sort of political correctness).
After roughly 45 minutes of rambling around with no purpose, the movie finally begins to settle down into a recognizable plot when Ryder and Eppie save a young woman named Valerie (Frances Raines) from a group of motorcycle thugs. This leads to a quickie romance between Ryder and Valerie, as well as a final shoot-out that gets Ryder and Eppie caught in the crossfire between a group of South American drug dealers and undercover FBI agents. Despite a few attempts at sudden plot twists and character revelations, the movie doesn't get better as it goes along.
Ryder P.I. might be of interest to those who are familiar with the New York comedy circuit of the mid-1980s, as the screen is filled from edge to edge with local comedians (the press materials claim more than 60 appear in the movie). Of course, that's the same rationale for why people's home movies are interesting: They appeal only to those who are intimately familiar with the people in them. To everyone else--which is most everybody--they are simply excruciating to sit through, much like Ryder P.I..
|Ryder P.I. DVD|
|Audio||Dolby 1.0 Monaural|
|Supplements|| 20 minutes of outtakes |
Original theatrical trailer
|Being an extremely low-budget, amateur production, Ryder P.I. was originally shot on video (not digital video, mind you, but good old-fashioned analog). The overall image is extremely ugly, as it demonstrates the inherent low resolution of analog video with drab colors, bad contrast, occasional light streaking, and constant pixelation and artifacting. This transfer is soft-matted at 1.85:1, which I assume to be the aspect ratio in which the movie was projected in theaters. While I always applaud adherence to the original theatrical aspect ratio on DVD, it might have been a better idea to include a version of the movie in its 1.33:1 video aspect ratio because director of photography Phil Arfman didn't seem to take into account a wider screen when composing his shots. When soft-matted, all of the close-ups are too tightly cropped, often taking off the tops of the actors' heads and the bottom of their chins. And, in certain scenes, information is chopped off the bottom of the frame entirely (this is particularly apparent in a scene in which Eppie is playing miniature golf, and the golf ball is almost completely cut out).|
|The Dolby 1.0 monaural soundtrack is about what you would expect. The movie's sound design is as amateurish as its visual quality, meaning that it is functional, but not much else. The soundtrack is generally clean, although it doesn't have much depth or fidelity. The soundtrack is also packed with bad '80s pop songs written expressly for the movie that are good for a laugh.|
| The primary reason to see this disc is for the Howard Stern outtakes, although they were previously available on a VHS edition. While they are nothing special, these outtakes will be of interest to Stern fans and those curious to see his work before he was a media superstar. Of the 20 minutes of outtakes, roughly 15 of them are dedicated to alternate takes and rough footage of Stern's scenes. The other five minutes are dedicated to alternate takes of Leroy, the computer Muppet. |
On a side note, for anyone who sees this movie for the first time on DVD, don't read the synopsis on the back cover, as whoever wrote it was ungracious enough to give away every plot twist in the entire movie.
©2001 James Kendrick