bad boyfriends, Bad Johnson, battle of the sexes, Cam Gigandet, cheating partners, cinema, comedies, detached penis, dick jokes, film reviews, films, Huck Botko, infidelity, Jamie Chung, Jeff Tetreault, Jessica Joy, Katherine Cunningham, Kevin Miller, men behaving badly, men vs women, Movies, Nick Thune, penis, personal trainers, Rich Johnson, sex comedies, wishes
While there’s certainly precedent for a film that combines crude sex comedy with sweet romance (after all, what better description could there possibly be for the Farrelly Brothers’ There’s Something About Mary (1998)?), it’s definitely a difficult tightrope to walk. On the one hand, the best, most outrageous and genuinely funniest crude comedies are always those that are allowed to go completely off-the-rails, unbound by any conventional notions of good taste or any attempt to toe some sort of a middle line. Sweetly romantic films, on the other hand, almost always operate best when we genuinely care about the people involved: if they’re too crude, obnoxious, slovenly or unlikable, it’s doubtful that audiences will be invested enough to care if they find true love or go back to online dating.
Huck Botko’s Bad Johnson (2014), rather than hewing strictly to one side or the other, clearly wants to have it both ways: while this (often) humorous tale of a serial philanderer’s attempt to get his penis back after it assumes human form and “runs away” features more dick jokes and sex talk than most films, it’s also decidedly good-natured and hinges on the kind of “storybook romance” that’s pretty standard for any number of faceless “date night” romantic comedies. In the end, however, Bad Johnson’s different facets don’t end up cohering as well as Butko might have intended, leaving us with a film that’s just slightly too polite and middle-of-the-road to be truly edgy but way too course and over-the-top to have much appeal to mainstream audiences.
Modern-day “it guy” Cam Gigandet stars as Rich Johnson (get it? huh? nudge nudge), a good-natured, mild-mannered and suitably hunky personal trainer who has just one little problem: it’s impossible for him to be faithful to any of the endless women he dates. Similar to Neil Patrick Harris’ ravenous Barney Stinson, Rich appears to be completely in thrall to his male member: it is, literally, impossible for him to resist the allure of a woman…any woman…at any time, place, ever. After getting kneed in the groin by a woman that he doesn’t recognize as a former “conquest,” Rich is ordered by the doctor to rest his “tool box” for six weeks. In the meantime, he meets and falls for Jamie (Jamie Chung): the process of waiting six weeks to do what normally takes hours forces Rich to re-examine his philandering ways, a process of self-discovery which goes out the window when he gets into a fender-bender with a “cougar” on his way to have sex with Jamie. He has sex with the older woman (natch), Jamie finds out (via teeth marks on his manhood) and another relationship is kaput.
After crying on best friend and fellow trainer Josh’s (Kevin Miller) shoulder, Rich wishes that his penis would just “leave him alone”: he can’t control it, so he just wants it gone. Faster than you can say “after-school special,” Rich wakes up the next morning to find his downstairs as smooth and featureless as a Ken doll. Still trying to process the bizarre new development, Rich gets a collect call from someone claiming to be his penis. Rich goes to pick up the mysterious caller after he relays information about Rich’s sexual history that only…well, his penis…could possibly know. Turns out that Rich’s missing member has assumed slovenly, bearded human form (comedian Nick Thune) and is none too happy about it: after all, it now needs to eat, relieve itself and do all of the other humiliating “human” things that penises don’t normally do. To add insult to injury, RP (as it likes to be called) even has his own penis…and it’s not even as impressive as RP used to be. The horror!
As can be expected, high-jinks ensue and RP ends up running wild around the city, humping anything and everything with impunity. Meanwhile, Rich learns to live without his troublesome penis (after a rather amusing montage in which he attempts various replacements) and even begins what seems to be a sweet, halting relationship with an attractive client (Katherine Cunningham). If there’s one thing that RP can’t handle, however, it’s true love: when Rich and Lindsay start to get serious, Rich’s wayward manhood decides to takes matters into his own hands and break the couple up, by hook or by crook. Will Rich ever be able to “tame” his penis? Will RP get the freedom and individuality that he so desperately craves? Can an unrepentant hound-dog ever settle down and find true love with just one woman or is a life of soulless, mechanical hook-ups the best he can ever hope for?
Despite a game cast and some genuinely funny moments, Bad Johnson never quite finds its footing: there’s always the sense that the film is pulling its punches, never quite as willfully offensive as it promises to be. Chalk it up to the way that Gigandet always comes across as a cute little puppy dog (despite the admittedly caddish behavior that he engages in) or the fact that the budding romance between Rich and Lindsay is so darn stereotypically sweet but the film never feels edgy, certainly an odd condemnation for any movie that features the human personification of someone’s penis.
The other side of the coin, of course, is that Bad Johnson is also too crude to have much merit for couples looking for a nice, quirky romantic comedy: any of the numerous scenes with Nick Thune being…well…a dick, I guess…push this just over the horizon into “uncomfortable” territory. It’s a matter of degrees, really, and Botko’s film just manages to err on either side of the “acceptable” line for this kind of thing.
I was also a little unsure of where the film wanted to land as far as the whole “guys being guys” issue goes. For most of the time, Botko and first-time screenwriter Jeff Tetreault seem to be mocking Rich’s inability to control his penis, which seems to be a commentary on the stereotypical male response to infidelity that guys “just can’t control themselves.” There’s something suitably ridiculous about someone who would rather be a eunuch than attempt to exert any self-control over his libido and genitalia. On the other hand, the film hands with Rich promising to be faithful to Lindsay, despite his revelation that he’ll still be ogling anything with boobs because “he’s still a guy.” It’s sort of a “have your cake and eat it, too” moment, which isn’t really surprising in a film that seems to be predicated on this sort of compromise: there’s a weird notion of wanting to placate both a male and female audience, simultaneously, which ends up making about as much sense as it sounds. Again, there are definitely ways to pull off this kind of “battle of the sexes” commentary (just look at something like the recent Force Majeure (2014) for evidence of this) but Bad Johnson just doesn’t have the wherewithal to make it work.
In a way, it’s kind of a shame: there are definitely the foundations for a much more interesting, insightful film here than what we actually end up getting. Gigandet and Thune both turn in solid performances as man and penis, respectively, although no one else in the cast really stands out: the female characters, in particular, all seem to get relatively short shrift, although Cunningham holds her own as the girl who eventually wins Rich’s heart. Despite being well-made and never less than watchable, Bad Johnson still strikes me as the equivalent of getting stuck behind someone swerving on the freeway: you really wish that they’d pick a lane, if only so that you can pass them by and get on with the day.