The Trap (3.03)
“Come on, take a free shot, baby! Payback for all those times I slapped you around!”
WHAT IS IT?
A boorish asshole bullies his wife and brother into helping him fake his death and collect on an insurance policy.
Michael J Fox, at the height of his glory (circa Doc Hollywood), directs and has a prominent cameo as a prosecutor. The script is written by Scott Alexander, a strangely schizophrenic writer, responsible for a trifecta of excellent 90s biopics (Ed Wood, The People Vs Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon) and every single entry in the Problem Child franchise, including the TV series. The cast is lead by Bruce McGill, who, despite being the central character, is billed third, because he’s apparently not as big a star as Teri Garr or Bruno Kirby. In small roles, we get James Tolkan (Principal Strickland from the Back to the Future, friend to both Fox and Zemeckis) and Carroll Baker ( a wildly successful actress and a star in her own right several decades ago, but who I’ll always know as the bad guy’s mother in Kindergarten Cop).
HOW IS IT?
Goofy, kind of bad. I wish there was more to it, because Fox’s presence alone might be interesting, and McGill is a terrific character actor, but no one is well served by this trifle. The story is a pretty standard, crime yarn, but Fox and Alexander’s tack on this material is to make it broadly comic, emphasizing the stupidity and wackiness. McGill plays Lou Paloma, a greasy belligerent loser who’s just been fired from his latest job, a delivery boy for Zemeckis’s Pizza. After yelling noxiously at his long-suffering wife Irene (Garr) and demanding TV dinner, he fields a call from his insurance dealer, looking for his latest missed payment. The call sets Lou’s idiot mind reeling, and he decides to fake his own death and collect the insurance, in about two seconds.
Lou calls his brother Billy, a nebbish mortician played by Bruno Kirby, and insults him into coming over and helping fake his death-by-robber, that very night. This plan really is hatched and carried out in the space of a couple hours, which seems fast for a decision that would completely alter your life irrevocably, but then, these characters are really goddamn stupid. Billy arrives and fakes the crime scene, which consists of Lou painting his face white and spraying blood on his shirt.. The episode proudly predates CSI, and seems more like a childhood prank than something that could ever fool the police, but whatever, clearly it’s going to be one of those kind of episodes. Lou is a huge bullying pain in the ass the entire time, unable to endure the thirty seconds spent trying to create a believable crime scene without screaming impatiently and scratching his balls, possibly the episode’s comic highlight.
So here’s the thing that almost works about the episode. The central premise is as clear as day: Billy and Irene are going to kill him for real. They’re both victims of Lou’s bullying jackassery, and they share a bit of nebbish doormat attraction to one another. The fun of the episode is how often they just flat out miss chances to bump him off, even as they’re offered up on a silver platter. Billy beats Lou repeatedly with a fire poker, but only so he’s unconscious for the cops. They almost send the Lou-filled coffin into an incinerator while they make out on top of it, only to pull it out at the last minute. This kind of made me hope the episode had a trump card to play, but in the end, they finally follow through, just in ridiculously convoluted fashion. After Lou escapes to Brazil and gets plastic surgery, they steal the money and pretend he’s dead. When screaming befuddled Lou comes back for what’s his, they play dumb and Lou gets framed for his own murder. His prints are all over the poker, and his blood is on the shirt! There’s a million things wrong with this (wouldn’t someone have a picture of Lou? He only got a nose job), but again, whatever. So Lou gets the electric chair, and Billy and Irene take the cash and head off to Brazil.
Playing everything so huge can be slightly annoying, but with a script this boring, I think it’s probably a shrewd choice by Fox and co. McGill handily wins the overacting contest, and is also the most fun to watch. He bellows every line, makes threatening fists, and generally pounds about like an ox. I’m usually not a fan of overbearing yellers, but with Teri Garr and Bruno Kirby both trying to out-wallflower each other, you take what you can get. There’s no horror or anything resembling it in The Trap, just the comic bumbling of a gaggle of incompetent criminals. It might be fun for fans of the Coen Brothers or Elmore Leonard to see this particular subgenre done ineptly, but really, the most you can say to recommend this is it’s semi-interesting to see what distractions the cast and crew can manage to get over the tepid blandness of the plot and characters. Not bad enough to be fun or interesting, The Trap loudly insists on being forgotten.
HOW EVIL ARE THE WOMEN?
Teri Garr is playing a dimwit, but so is everybody else. Clean bill of health this week.
ALSO WORTH NOTING:
*You could argue Irene and Billy’s final escape plan, the titular trap, is somewhat clever, but to me, it just feels like the path of least resistance, the most passive solution they could come up with after months of puzzling over it. Which I guess makes it smart, but also not very dramatic.
*Another distraction: the dialogue is peppered with an absurd Damn Runyon-esque comic gangster patois (“We got some big problems here, see!” “You can’t talk to me like that, ya bum!”). I wish they’d pushed it further, throwing out “Why I oughta!” or “Take a hike, you palooka!”
*The set they pull together for the tropics makes last week’s Heaven look like Terrence Malick shot it.
*Every member of the Paloma clan has a big ugly mole on the left cheek. I’m sure this is nothing but the makeup artist having fun, but as the episode deals with contentious brothers, I prefer to think it’s the Mark of Cain.
WORST CRYPT KEEPER JOKE:
“Can I interest you in a policy? The benefits are great, but the screamiums’ll kill ya!”
There’s a lot of ways that Crypt episodes can go wrong, but the biggest one for me is when they eschew horror or supernatural elements for tales of criminal plots gone wrong. My distaste for The Sacrifice has been well-documented, and while this is not nearly as useless as that, it’s certainly not one of the better episodes of Crypt. There are moments of greatness (Irene and Billy fucking on top of Lou’s coffin, only to be interrupted by Lou’s mother, who tells Irene she should have been home cooking dinner is a fever dream highlight) but mostly it’s just loud and obnoxious. But it’s pretty well directed I guess, so props to Mr. Fox.