FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological, psychological*
REAL MEN was the only directorial effort of Dennis Feldman, who is best known for writing such formula action-films as THE GOLDEN CHILD and the 1999 VIRUS. It's one of those comedies that some viewers will swear to be outrageously funny, while it leaves others cold. My reaction was lukewarm at best.
Feldman's script makes no pretensions to making his scenario even mildly believable. An agent of the FBI has just made contact with an alien visitor, but said agent is killed by an assassin. Despite the agent's death, somehow he communicates to his superiors the essence of the alien's needs. In exchange for a very minor item-- a simple glass of water-- the alien is willing to give Earth one of two major gifts: either a "big gun" capable of blowing up a planet, or a "good package" that can help the government eradicate a major pollution menace. The good agents of the FBI want the "good package," but there's a rogue element in the agency that wants the gun, and so do various Russian agents.
Because the rogue element has left the good FBI drastically lacking in resources, the chief assigns one of his loyal agents, Nick Pirandello (James Belushi), to seek out a man who looks exactly like the murdered agent, so that the substitute can finesse the trade without incident. However, the lookalike is wimpy civilian Bob Wilson (John Ritter), so Pirandello must find a way to draft the unwilling citizen to serve the FBI's ends.
REAL MEN is little more than a basic buddy-comedy, in which Pirandello manipulates the confused Wilson into serving his purposes. The only interesting psychological motif in the story is that once Wilson does become committed to the mission, he takes on a macho attitude-- just as Pirandello, not coincidentally, begins to decline in his balls-to-the-wall masculinity. This comes about in part because the agent encounters a sadistic torturess-- apparently not one of the opposing agents-- who forces him to confess his vulnerability and weakness to her. However, like most of the jokes in the film, this one doesn't go anywhere. Feldman's script shoots for broad irony, not least with the basic setup of the aliens-who-just-want-a-glass-of-water. Yet the story fails as an irony, largely because it's too invested in the idea of giving wimpy Wilson a macho upgrade so that he can trounce bullies and such.
Neither the heroes nor the villains utilize any marvelous weapons against one another, though I've decided that the villains' desire to acquire a marvelous weapon lends them a marvelous phenomenality, even though the closest they personally get to the metaphenomenal is a lame joke where some of the bad agents dress up like clowns for no particular reason.