Has there ever been a wise-guy nerd as masochistically creepy as Chris Elliott? With his egg-shaped head and goofy buck-toothed leer, he’s like a drowned rat who’s convinced himself he’s the life of the party. In the past, the famous movie schlemiels (Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Woody Allen, Pee-wee Herman) have often been oblivious to the notion that they were coming off as losers. But Elliott takes this myopic self-deception a step further. It’s not just that he’s a chinless geek; it’s that he’s so aggressively out of it he actually seems proud of his own worst qualities. Delivering featherweight insults in a lispy, adenoidal whine, he’s a walking male disaster area, a spectacle of preening ickiness.
As Nathanial, a persnickety prep-school snob who ends up on the high seas with a bunch of macho fishermen, Elliott wears his loathsomeness like a cardboard crown in the deliriously stupid Cabin Boy (Touchstone, PG-13). Mocked for being a ”fancy lad” by none other than David Letterman (in a robustly nasty cameo), Nathanial is so harmlessly bratty he’s like a bearded teenage girl. He’s a new screen type: a heterosexual pansy. I used to like watching Elliott on the postmodern Fox sitcom Get a Life. There was something oddly bracing about a TV show whose central gag consisted of the ritual humiliation of its own protagonist. Cabin Boy offers a numbing, slapstick reduction of the Get a Life formula: It pushes past ridicule and into the comedy of brazen self-abasement. Appointed the ship’s lowly cabin boy, Nathaniel is forced to sit for days under the blazing sun (he uses cooking oil as tanning lotion), to dance while his shipmates pelt him with tin cans, to wipe the deck clean with his tongue (”Oddly enough, it kind of tastes like marzipan!”). At one point he’s confronted by a giant flying cupcake (don’t even ask), which spits tobacco juice in his face. Quel wit! Quel comic daring! In Cabin Boy, the old-salt fishermen are the butt of every joke, and Chris Elliott is too. Few comedies have worked this hard to make everyone on screen look this dumb. D+