|Cover of The Shrimp on the Barbie|
It is often considered a red flag when a director decides to obscure his or her involvement in a film by adopting the infamous Alan Smithee pseudonym, a name now synonymous with “bad” movies. When director Michael Gottlieb does so after proudly displaying his name on Mannequin, Mr. Nanny, and A Kid in King Arthur’s Court, you end up with enough red flags to open a used car lot.
It’s also a bad sign when a character takes the time to explain the double-meaning of the film’s title, which is what Cheech Marin eventually does in The Shrimp on the Barbie, an unsuccessful attempt to cash in on America’s already rapidly declining obsession with Paul Hogan and the Australian counter-culture. Our screenwriter’s waste no time in setting up the Australian locale, with the first five minutes featuring Marin sporting a Crocodile Dundee costume, uttering the film’s titular phrase, and getting punched out by a kangaroo.
After this rapid-fire introduction to the cultural fish-out-of-water story, the film settles into the agonizingly familiar economic and racial fish-out-water plot, which involves down-on-his-luck and recently dumped Mexican restaurant waiter Carlos accepting $5000 to pretend to be the obnoxious new fianceée of spoiled rich girl Alex (Played by Emma Samms, who spends the bulk of the film running around in extremely tight pants with Piranha II star Carole Davis) in order to help her win some sort of bizarre bet/dare with her rich protective father and get permission to marry her obnoxious Aussie Jock boyfriend. Get it? He’s a “shrimp,’ she’s a “Barbie”… That’s about as clever as the film gets. The entire story feels as if it was written for an East L.A. location (which was most likely the case), then was hastily dropped into the outback to capitalize on the US film audience’s brief flash of Aussie Fever. Remember Jocko? Probably not, and this is why you don’t remember this film, either.
The only saving grace to The Shrimp on the Barbie is Marin’s unavoidable charm and undeniable comic talent, yet this can only hold up a film so long when you find yourself wishing every five or ten minutes that Tommy Chong would show up and give him someone to play the other half of his recycled (yet still mildly amusing) comedic performance. It also doesn’t help that much of Marin’s humor in the film involves fulfilling broad Latino/Mexican stereotypes for comedic effect as the playacting Carlos, only to have him become offended whenever he is confronted by bigoted remarks that are, for the most part, fueled by these antics. It’s also hard to empathize with Marin’s indignation at having his nationality demeaned when a half an hour ago he was belting out thickly accented tunes as Elvo, a Pakistani Elvis Impersonator.
The Shrimp on the Barbie isn’t horrible as much as it is wholly forgettable, except as a chance to see Cheech Marin take up space on the screen again. Minus points for attempting to unsuccessfully sneak sex humor and partial nudity into a PG-13 film. Extra points awarded for featuring two Road Warrior stars in the same film, as well as a cameo by Sloth from The Goonies as the creepy butler.