Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Captain Ron

Captain Ron posterThe light-hearted comedy Captain Ron (1992) begins with introducing the Harvey family who live in the fast-paced, crowded, and bustling city of Chicago. Martin Harvey, played by Martin Short, and Katherine Harvey (Mary Kay Place) are the preoccupied and stressed-out parents of the 16-year-old, wild child Caroline (Meadow Sisto) and the oft-forgotten, 11-year-old Benjamin (Benjamin Salisbury). This family is depicted as the typical American household of modern age: distant from one another and constantly anxious, and yet astoundingly unable to see their own detachment. This attitude is illustrated perfectly when Martin discovers that he has inherited a sailboat from his late Uncle William, and when he proposes to his wife that the family spontaneously travel to the Caribbean to collect it and sail it up to Miami, she responds with, “We’ll be spontaneous when we have the time.” Perhaps this outlook would have stuck if it wasn’t for Caroline who bursts into the house to giddily announce her engagement to a deadbeat teenage boyfriend. Needless to say the Harvey family jets off to the Caribbean island of San Pomme de Terre as soon as possible.

They have hopes of living in the grand boat which they had seen in pictures, but arrive to the sight of a disheveled, long-forgotten sailboat, littered with funky beachcomber belongings and aptly named “Wanderer”. Not long after, they meet the unorthodox, one-eyed, bohemian Captain Ron, whom they had hired to guide them in their sail to Miami. After Ron accentuates his first impression with plenty of mishaps and humourous one-liners (which leave the family guessing if he is, in fact, truly insane), they all set-off for their first stop of many, St. Haag. Ron proves his skills on several occasions as a boat captain, but leaves much to be desired in terms of a guide. On account of his non-existent navigational skills, the family ends up lost on deserted islands or twenty miles off course. Little by little, the family begins to relax as they admire Captain Ron’s attitude of nonchalance, but this only causes Martin to feel less like the hero he had hoped to be on this adventure. This lack of respect for Captain Ron only leads Martin into trouble, such as thinking that ‘guerrillas’ means ‘gorillas’ and laughing at Ron’s stupidity that such an animal could be found in the Caribbean, only to later be captured by a group of revolutionaries. Captain Ron always manages to get them out of the sticky situations (which he himself actually brought about), until one night when he’s in charge of the kids in San Juan and Caroline ends up with a tattoo while Benjamin is caught betting on monopoly and drinking beer. This is the last straw for Martin and he fires Ron, boards the boat, and sails out into the night, unawares that Ron owes money to a dangerous man named Rosco after losing at monopoly.

Rosco and his buddies end up chasing after the Harveys and thus become the family’s idea of the notorious Pirates of the Caribbean. After being captured, thrown into a lifeboat, and then floating in the ocean for 16 hours, they arrive in Cuba to find their boat docked and Captain Ron miraculously appearing to help them get it back. During their escape plan, Captain Ron realizes that the kids look up to him more than their dad. Feeling slightly troubled at this news, he fakes a broken leg at a crucial point in their get-away, leaving Martin to save the day. After the family escapes from Cuba through their own skill as sailors, the Pirates, still in pursuit of the Wanderer, begin to open fire. Ron desperately maydays for help and the US Coast Guard arrives at the same time that Martin realizes Ron had been faking his injury. At that moment, the Coast Guard requests to speak to the Captain on the radio and Ron hands Martin the receiver, which instantly absolves any qualm the two may have had. The journey is finished in Miami, where the family finally says good-bye to Ron and then goes to hand-over the boat to a yacht-distributing company. But suddenly, all four have a change of heart as they turn the boat around only metres from the dock and sail back out to sea with the spontaneity inspired by the one-and-only Captain Ron, who has shown them what it means to be a family.

It is interesting that during their one, brief stop in Cuba, Martin exclaims frantically to his family that this communist island isn’t all about Ricky Ricardo and I Love Lucy re-runs, whereas previously he had gotten caught-up in the Caribbean vibe while on the boat and cried out to his wife, “Lucy, I’m home!” It appears as though acting as a Cuban icon is not the same as actually setting foot on the island governed by communism and harsh rule. Here we can see that the Harvey family is certainly out of their secure haven of America where they can keep such allusions at a safe distance; for example, the distance from the couch to the television set. Nevertheless, this idea of American protection is still upheld when they are conveniently rescued from the pirates by the US Coast Guard.

Apart from the character development of the Harvey family, we also see the Caribbean expand its own character. Places like St. Haag and San Juan are displayed in the film as party islands, filled to capacity with rich tourists enjoying their 2-for-1 happy hour drinks and dancing to the beat of a Caribbean steel-drum on a carefree vacation. This is what Caroline had imagined the Caribbean to be: a St. Bart’s or Club Med; instead of Captain Ron’s aptly put description of “voodoo, hoodoo, and all kinds of weird shit”, which would explain their run-in with guerrillas and being chased by pirates. The film displays a vagueness of location; purposefully with the beautiful islands that the group comes across when lost, and unconsciously with places like St. Pomme de Terre, which is actually Puerto Rico and may only be recognized as such by the flag hanging in the local police station. It may not be clear as to how the Caribbean should be viewed, as cruel or as carefree, after watching the assortment of facades; but it is presented as a place of wonder, where, with the right captain at the helm, one can find both leisure and quirky adventure.

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