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Caution! "Men at Work'

Published Oct. 17, 2005

Men at Work X

Director: Emilio Estevez

Cast: Charlie Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Leslie Hope, Keith David

Screenplay: Emilio Estevez

Rating: PG-13; profanity, violence

Running time: 96 minutes

Excellent XXXXX; Very good XXXX;

Good XXX; Mediocre XX; Poor X

It's appropriate that Men at Work's writer, director and co-star, Emilio Estevez, has cast himself as a garbage collector.

His new movie is trash.

What could have been a subversively funny account of society's lowliest and least-appreciated profession instead is a sluggish and dim-witted farce revolving around the murder of a corrupt mayoral candidate who had threatened to expose illegal chemical dumping off his Pacific community's shores.

Trash collectors (and real-life brothers) Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez discover the politician's corpse while making the rounds. Their black supervisor (Keith David) peers into the metal drum containing the body and muses, "Looky here. Somebody threw away a perfectly good white boy."

That's indicative of the movie's humor. Alas.

Instead of calling the cops, the trio cart the corpse around town _ Weekend at Bernie's style _ while attempting to solve the murder mystery on their own.

They slip a Richard Nixon mask over the cadaver's face, take a pizza delivery man hostage and match wits with the toxic polluter's bumbling henchmen. Sheen also woos the mayoral candidate's campaign manager (Leslie Hope) to determine whether she might have strangled her boss.

Writer-director Estevez spends only the briefest moments glorifying the sanitation workers' lot in life. He seems more concerned with exalting toilet humor, jokes about homosexuality and delayed stress syndrome.

Estevez's and Sheen's supervisor is a crazed Vietnam veteran with an unexplained loathing for police. That accounts for their decision not to report the body when it's found. Their boss also has a problem with flashbacks: He envisions the pizza delivery man as a Viet Cong sympathizer.

The primary targets of Estevez's infantile humor are a pair of brain-dead trash collectors and two suburban police officers. The sanitation workers are repeatedly splattered with feces. The cops are stripped and handcuffed in a compromising position.

Men at Work is more witless than it sounds. The callow situations envisioned by Estevez are further burdened by his inability to write dialogue and his limited skill as a director.

These shortcomings were evident in the 1986 release Wisdom, Estevez's wretched debut as a writer, director and star. That picture, which espoused farmer's aid rhetoric while revolving around a college graduate haunted by a past felony conviction, also was hampered by its unsophisticated point of view and its muddled script.

Estevez's Men at Work plays like the product of a wealthy, powerful, largely naive actor, railing against the system that, aside from a few legal problems, has treated him exceptionally well.

Estevez's concern for farmers and the environment would seem admirable if he could do more than simply repeat catch words and slogans. One gets the impression from Wisdom and Men at Work that he skims newspaper headlines en route to the comics pages.

As an actor, Estevez falls short of the blustery, rebellious charm he exuded in Repo Man. Sheen seems adrift without the strong direction that guided him through Platoon and Wall Street.

Yet, there's a certain charm to the trash collection scenes with the Brothers Sheen tossing cans and skimming lids across otherwise pristine suburban streets. There's also a sense of futility.

Men at Work is the Brat Pack's equivalent to Burt Reynolds' Smokey and the Bandit series. It's merely an excuse for the boys to get together and play; a hollow comic exercise with the viewer the butt of the joke.