Watching “McHale’s Navy” gave me a whole lot of flashbacks to “Car 54, Where Are You?”: A television show treasured by an older generation is remade as a film with new actors and a new direction to lure in the younger folks, and the result is something that no one enjoys and doesn’t manage to be funny for anyone. I will say that “McHale’s Navy” is almost unarguably better than “Car 54”, and has more in the way of redeeming value. It is even relatively watchable, there just aren’t any laughs to be had. It is structured and paced well enough like a typical comedy movie, but someone forgot to include the funny parts.
Tim Curry and Bruce Campbell almost save the movie with their presences alone. However, Campbell is in a bit role with minimal screen-time (and according to Campbell, often wasn’t given direction at all). Curry is likewise significantly hamstrung by his villain character’s writing. He does what he can, but there was no way that the role could be saved without serious re-writing. At the very least, Curry is always entertaining to watch as he chews up the scenery, regardless of how bad his writing is.
On the flip side, Dean Stockwell and David Alan Grier are unforgivably grating in their character portrayals. Grier specifically plays one of the most aggravatingly annoying characters ever to grace a screen, and is some of the worst comic relief I have ever sat through. The rest of the cast is utterly forgettable, including Tom Arnold as McHale himself. He just isn’t quite charming enough, and the rest of the characters aren’t fleshed out in the slightest. I seem to recall one character who was primarily defined by the fact he slept in a tree. Don’t ask me his name, I couldn’t remember any of them outside of McHale, and that’s only due to the title and how often it is spoken throughout the movie.
The direction and editing was mostly run-of-the-mill, outside of some reused shots during the boat battle scenes. I suppose they were pulled off well enough, but I didn’t find either of the showdowns particularly interesting. There wasn’t quite enough suspense to give any of the actions significant gravity.
The only moment in the whole film that actually grabbed my attention was a throwaway scene when Tim Curry’s character is so frustrated that he shoots one of his minions in the head. The execution is played off in a very cartoony manner that felt incredibly jarring, particularly as the body limply falls over one of the other characters. Despite the lack of graphic content, the killing felt incredibly dark and out of place. Given that the scene had no plot relevance that I can recall, I am surprised that it made the final cut of the film.
“McHale’s Navy” is no longer in the IMDb Bottom 100, which doesn’t particularly surprise me. It isn’t funny, but it is more or less a semi-competently put together film. A lot of the acting is bad and the tone doesn’t work, but the key issue with the film breaks down to the very concept itself: no one wanted this movie. I doubt that loyal fans of the show were clamoring for a reboot, especially not on the big screen. I also seriously doubt that the mainstream movie-going audience of 1997 had any interest in a remake of an ancient TV show that was hardly a blip on their cultural radars. Even with an outstanding script, cast, and masterful direction, I don’t think this concept would have resonated at the box office. In truth, it was mediocre-to-abysmal in every arena, which would have doomed even a good concept at the box office.
“McHale’s Navy” isn’t a movie I can recommend for fun watching. Failed comedies are hard to squeeze laughs out of, even from a critical perspective. If you want a weird bad movie experience involving a boat, check out fellow IMDb Bottom 100 entry “Going Overboard”. That feature is damn surreal. Or, you could check out Jason Vorhees terrorizing a boat in “Friday the 13th Part VIII”. Either way, it’ll be a better time than “McHale’s Navy”.