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Captain Ron Reviews

Former Disney juvenile star Kurt Russell looks right at home in CAPTAIN RON, a bland, seagoing, feature-length sitcom which recycles the displaced-dad theme from the studio's recent hit WHAT ABOUT BOB? to little effect. Russell plays the title character, a dreadlocked, drydocked bum hired to pilot a boat, The Wanderer, which was once supposed to have belonged to Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. The boat has been inherited from a long-forgotten uncle by a yuppie family consisting of Martin Harvey (Martin Short), his wife Katherine (Mary Kay Place), their budding teenage daughter Caroline (Meadow Sisto) and pre-adolescent son Benjamin (Benjamin Salisbury). Though not shipwrecked, The Wanderer, docked in the Caribbean, does turn out to be more of a wreck than a ship, a point injudiciously relayed to boat broker Donaldson (Paul Anka), who plans to junk it as soon as it hits port in Miami. Rather than leaving the sailing to Ron, Martin hauls his family south to soak up some adventure that, of course, gets out of hand. Though plagued by a sense of indirection that causes him to navigate past island stops on the trip, Ron otherwise proves an expert seaman. He also proves more popular with Martin's family than Martin himself. Under Ron's influence Caroline is soon out getting tattooed while Benjamin drinks beer and gambles at Monopoly with Ron's "friend," an island hooker, and Ron gets some hands-on experience of his own while teaching Katherine how to work the ship's wheel. Martin's family, all of whom were initially opposed to the trip, wind up having more fun than Martin, who means to put a stop to it by firing Ron forthwith. Unfortunately, it's a little too forthwith because Martin also throws Ron's paramour ashore before she can get paid for winning a game of strip Monopoly, leading her pimp to ambush the Martin vessel and steal it away to Cuba. There Martin and family stage a daring rescue with some last-minute help from Ron, who even manipulates the rescue to make Martin look like the hero, restoring Martin's manhood and status as head of his clan and his boat. When the moment comes to turn over the boat, which has undergone an amazing transformation after just a little scrubbing and swabbing, Martin instead turns back to the sea leaving Donaldson sputtering on the dock. Like virtually every Disney comedy released for the last several years, CAPTAIN RON starts well but gets soggier as it goes along. As usual, the cast can't really be faulted. Russell has just the right mix of saltiness and warmth as Ron. Place is also appealing as the mom of the piece, predictably keeping her wits while her husband loses his and still managing to fill a pair of cutoffs in eye-catching fashion. The kids are capable though standard-issue sitcom charmers. The glaring problem is Short's miscasting in a role that seems perversely calculated to display none of his comic talents. To say the least, the thankless role as the slow-burning responsible member of the ensemble is ill-suited to someone who set a new standard for inspired lunacy on "SCTV," the landmark comedy series which showcased Short in roles ranging from hyperactive super-schnook Ed Grimley to "the kid from DELIVERANCE." Even if he'd intended to expand his range--an affliction that seems peculiar to comedy topliners--this is a less-than-ideal vehicle. The "displaced dad" angle seems arbitrarily grafted onto the screenplay for no better reason than that it worked in WHAT ABOUT BOB?, in which psychiatrist-dad Richard Dreyfuss found himself vying with lovable-lunatic patient Bill Murray for the affections of his family. In fact, there is no compelling reason whatsoever for Martin's dislike of Ron, but Thom Eberhardt and John Dwyer's screenplay is rarely logical, much less inspired. After setting up a HOOK-style climax of a sea battle with real-life "pirates of the Caribbean," the actual action consists largely of Ron below deck on the ship's radio screaming for Coast Guard assistance. Despite the appealing window dressing, it all amounts to yet another ho-hum entry from a studio that now seems bent on "perfecting" a new genre in the fatally forgettable big-star comedy. (Adult situations.)