Let’s be brutally honest here. As a rule, film critics are not, and have never been, big fans of the comedian and actor Pauly Shore. When they rattle off lists of their favorite films, Shore’s vehicles seldom make the cut, and it’s rare to meet a film critic who counts Shore among their favorite actors or “Weez the juice!” among their favorite cinematic catchphrases.
Shore’s name goes unspoken at Cannes and Sundance each year, but during the 1990s, he triumphed ironically at the Razzies no less than four times, including a win for Worst New Star of the Decade. That’s an entire decade. Critics tend to view Shore’s mere existence as a personal affront only compounded by his central and confounding presence in a number of theatrically released films from the 1990s.
Most of Shore’s movies have bombed with audiences as well, but some of them have fared worse than others, particularly 1995’s Jury Duty, which scored the infamous Zero here at Rotten Tomatoes. How toxic was Jury Duty‘s critical response? Bio-Dome, which earned a mere 5% higher on the Tomatometer, was practically a critical favorite by comparison, and that movie’s reputation fluctuates between “So bad it’s good” and “So bad it’s excruciatingly, almost unbearably awful.”
Both Jury Duty and Bio-Dome asked audiences to imagine how it would feel to be stuck in an enclosed space for an extended period of time with an even more stupid and annoying version of the real Pauly Shore. Wouldn’t that just be a laugh and a half? It was a proposition audiences found easy to resist, and thanks to the reception of Jury Duty and its ilk, film critics wouldn’t have Shore to kick around for much longer. He was on his way out as a movie star, but he saved some of his most egregious insults for last, and Jury Duty and Bio-Dome are the worst of a very sorry lot.
O.J. Simpson’s “Trial of the Century” murder case briefly sparked a flurry of interest in our legal system and ignited a mini-wave of terrible, terrible comedy featuring such totally 1990s aberrations as Jay Leno’s The Dancing Itos, the tragicomic existence of Kato Kaelin, and John Fortenberry‘s 1995 dark comedy Jury Duty, which routinely returns to the sad well of O.J. Simpson murder trial-based comedy over the course of its endless yet montage-filled 88 minutes. It also includes an ending that features Pauly Shore yelling random O.J.-themed nonsense, seemingly out of character.
A singularly irritating Shore stars as Tommy Collins, an aimless loser so pathetic that the prospect of making five dollars a day and staying in a dumpy hotel for jury duty strikes him as a kick-ass open-ended vacation. He’s first introduced stripping as the Cream Machine, whose dairy-themed performance, during which he rubs cottage cheese all over his be-thonged buttocks, sets the art of erotic dance back decades, if not centuries, and acquaints the audience with an unusually loathsome anti-hero in a uniquely unattractive and unappealing light.
Even if you enjoyed the classic Chris Farley Chippendales sketch, you’ll be particularly insulted and disgusted by this movie’s piss-poor imitation. It turns out Tommy only landed the gig because his Uncle Sal (Andrew Dice Clay) is the manager of the strip club. It’s rare for one family to possess so much raw talent.
Tommy can’t make it as an adult entertainer for reasons that are instantly apparent, but he thinks he’s lucked into a satisfying long-term grift when he discovers that jurors on big, high-profile murder trials, like O.J.’s, can stay in fancy hotels for as long as the jury is still deliberating. With that in mind, he earns a spot on the jury for the trial of accused serial killer Carl Wayne Bishop, who’s seemingly guilty by virtue of his name and the fact that he’s played by crazy-eyed character actor Sean Whalen, who specializes in playing lunatics, most notably as one of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s viscerally disturbing McPoyle brothers.
For a particularly regrettable Pauly Shore vehicle, Jury Duty wastes an astonishing array of talent. Our boorish anti-hero’s jury includes a slumming Stanley Tucci as a simpering tree-hugger with a dark secret (setting the tone for a career where the answer was always “Yes!”, no matter the role), the great character actor Brian Doyle-Murray (sporting a distractingly pompadour-shaped black toupee), 1980s independent film icon Richard Edson, and Billie Bird in her final film performance, not to mention Shelley Winters as Tommy’s trailer park-dwelling mother, the terrific tough guy character actor Charles Napier as her boyfriend, and Abe Vigoda as a perpetually and justifiably apoplectic judge.
In keeping with the totally 1990s vibe, Shore’s love interest and fellow juror is played by the Wayne’s World series’ Tia Carrere. Carrere is called upon to seem enraged by Shore and eager to wring his throat when, for example, she discovers (long after the audience does) that Tommy has been artificially postponing the outcome of the trial and keeping an extremely pregnant woman from being with her family, all so he can stay in a cushy hotel suite he secured by illegally and unethically promoting a nearby business. This comes incredibly easy to Carrere.
But she is also called upon to be impressed and even turned on by Tommy when he makes his astonishing transformation from entitled creep to unlikely hero, paying homage to Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men (which the movie has the gall to reference) and taking a lonely stand on behalf of a defendant every one else thinks is guilty. This comes a lot less naturally to Carrere.
Jury Duty takes a deeply pointless and comedy-killing turn for the serious in its third act as our obnoxious, eminently punchable protagonist comes to realize that maybe he shouldn’t be screwing over everyone he meets for the sake of living a slightly less pathetic life on the government’s dime for a couple of months.
The people behind Jury Duty really seemed to have challenged themselves to make Pauly Shore as unappealing a protagonist as possible, which is not something you ever want to do. If you’re making a Pauly Shore vehicle, you have to assume that a lot of your audience is going to hate him going in, just because of who he is as an actor and personality, and work against that instinct.
Unfortunately, Jury Duty does the opposite, doubling down and all but taunting the audience. “Oh, you think you’ve been irritated by Pauly Shore before? You’ve seen nothing! He’s such a garbage monster here that you’re going to want to reach through the screen and murder him yourself!”
It isn’t comedy to faithfully recreate the feeling of being sequestered with Pauly Shore with seemingly no reprieve while he controls things furtively for his own selfish self-interest. It’s torture porn. It’s no wonder audiences reacted to it with a level of dread akin to receiving a jury summons. Thankfully, seeing Jury Duty was a grim chore that everyone except Shore’s old nemeses — the film critics of the world — were able to avoid.
Pretty good comedy
frenzalrhomb_255, September 7, 2004
Well if you’re not a Pauly Shore fan, skip this one, but if in facts, you appear to like him, this one might please you. I’m not very picky when it comes to movies, but I’d say this one was not bad at all. Lots funny parts and stuff, maybe you would like to rent it first though, but well worth the money!.
Pauly Shore is of course a like it or not, the way he tries to sound annoying might offend you, but like I said earlier, I don’t really care about it, as long as its funny!
Too bad he stopped making movies!
I give it an 8!
True, Jury Duty feels like torture, and also like being stuck in purgatory with Pauly Shore, yet it’s nevertheless the least painful movie I’ve seen for this column, although that mostly speaks to the low, low quality of the barely-movies I’ve covered. Maybe it’s just because, at 88 minutes, Jury Duty is over a half hour shorter than The Ridiculous 6, but unlike every other movie I’ve screened for The Zeros, it isn’t completely worthless.
Jury Duty brought me to the brink of mild amusement several times, and nostalgia and the supporting cast alone would seem to raise this bad boy’s score to a two or even a three. That might be pathetic in any other context, but it represents a veritable triumph here at The Zeros, where the movies very much live up to the column’s title.
Nathan Rabin is a freelance writer, columnist, the first head writer of The A.V. Club and the author of four books, most recently Weird Al: The Book (with “Weird Al” Yankovic) and You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me. Follow Nathan on Twitter: @NathanRabin