I’ve felt the hot, compressed juices of ordinary American garbage run down my arm, burning a trail of disgust along the way. Its pungent stench has choked my olfactory system sillier than David Carradine in a room full of pantyhose. I can guess a dumpster‘s smell from mere sight, the way a fat, lonely woman knows what the chocolate cake smells like simply from catching a fleeting glimpse of the desert menu. I can even tell you how much a trashcan weighs simply by brushing the back of my hand against it, like I’m accidentally fluffing the bosom of some unsuspecting stripper. I have gift. I won’t deny that. Growing up in Hurricane country, we had to deal with our own trash on more than one occasion: Gutting houses, demolishing businesses, and stacking up garbage for weeks until Waste Management decided to get its shit together. I’ve lived through the trash apocalypse, thrice over, and from what I haven’t blacked out from memory, I can only say that when the end comes, plastic bags and a hole big enough to bury a Golic brother in will be worth more than all the gasoline or Beefaroni you can fit in your tent. This is dread man. Truly dread.
That’s why this movie touches me so deeply. It deals with the lifestyles of garbage men. Now there are two types of trash collectors:
A.) The work for the man. Suckers who punch a clock, wake up early, and collect a steady check while providing a valued service to the community.
B.) The free enterprising collectors (which I come from a long line of) who make their own hours, live by their own rules, and take what they want while leaving the rest for the working stiffs in the blue jumpsuits. Their existence is the true spirit of America. What they can’t fix up and sell, they bring to the scrap yard, where metal is precious, tattoos are plentiful, and everyone has more scars than teeth. These men live lives steeped in rural blight, residing in condemned trailers where street maps with garbage schedules hang next to a dart board and bikini poster. They’re the first responders to your unwanted goods, and chances are, you never even see them coming. Heroes to some. Minor nuisances to most.
Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez belong to group A, and all the shenanigans start when they find a body in the trash (which is probably not as rare as seeing two white garbage men in the same day). Anyway, the body belongs to a city councilman named Jack Burger. I think he was killed by Steve Frenchfry. Only Burger was a big shot city councilman, even had a staff of about 30 people working for him. Now I don’t know what the fuck kind of ritzy town they live in, but when I was growing up, my city councilman drove me to school on his bus and also practiced amateur taxidermy (both of which he did to the soothing sounds of the Isley Brothers). Now the story gets complex because the night before, Charlie Sheen was spying on his neighbors with his binoculars, like he does every night, and decided to shoot Jack Burger in the ass with a pellet gun after witnessing Burger be a total dick to this poodle-haired, power-suit of a cunt that Sheen is creepily obsessing over. At this point, him being an adult garbage man is starting to make sense.
So yeah, Sheen shoots him, and find him in the trash the next day. It’s kind of like a less Jewey Seinfeld episode. The best part is, Keith David is tagging along! He’s a shell-shocked Vietnam Vet who draws sketches of civilian massacres and still hears the nasally hum of the People’s Army every once in a while. He still wears his green army jacket, just so you know he’s out of his fucking mind. The only people who wear old army jackets are exit ramp beggars and weirdoes who huff paint and make their own bio-diesel. He steals the whole fucking movie, which is pretty easy when the rest of the actors are as bad as black jellybeans.
Keith David picks Burger’s Body out of the trash with the nonchalance of a housewife examining boiling spaghetti. “Looks like somebody threw away a perfectly good whiteboy.” he smirks. That‘s when the cops show up, and since Keith don’t fuck with no police, they play Weekend at Bernie’s with the dead guy’s body and decide to just solve the case themselves. Not at one point do they question, “What are we doing?” “Why do we give a shit who killed this prick?” “We‘re garbage men; can’t we just throw him in the truck and never speak of this again?”
Those options are never even considered. This is the early 90’s late 80’s era, where everybody had a mullet that could be converted into a tiny ponytail, a pierced left ear, and if you found a body in the trash, you got to the bottom of it yourself.
I call this era the Brackish Period. The funky freshness of the 80’s with the salty grunge of the 90’s. It was a confusing time for all, a time of transition. The entire thing can be epitomized in once scene. Sheen, Estevez, and Keith David are sitting in a burger joint. There are no less than 3 small ponytails, at least one mullet, and a guy in a visor/walkman combo. You can smell the hamburger grease, perhaps a subtle allusion to Burger’s rotting corpse stuffed away outside in the garbage truck. Meanwhile, Technotronic‘s “Pump up the Jam” softly plays on the jukebox while Estevez and David have a stare down, completely and eternally transforming the intent and vibe of that timeless ballad for me. That’s when David catches Estevez’s wrist like he’s grasping at the neck of some unlucky VC, looks him square in his stupid Mighty Duck face and explains, “There are several sacred things in this world you don’t ever mess with. One of them happens to be another man’s fries. You remember that and you will live a long and healthy life.” Shit gave me the chills.
So where does the movie go after all this? It opens up, spiraling without reason towards some sort of half assed resolution. We learn through posterity, that it was about the journey all along, not the destination. It couldn’t have been. If it was, it would be an admittedly shitty movie. There is some sort of a message about pollution being bad or something, but it’s lost in the collage of moving parts. Basically, there are teams, each with different motives, all connected to each other somehow. Why don’t we meet them:
Sheen and some chick: Nothing is more annoying than a woman with a career if you ask me. It gives them this undeserved confidence. This brawd thinks she’s some sort of shot-calling Erin Brokovitch, but she works for a city councilman and lives in the same apartment as two garbage collectors. She should have just married some insurance salesman. If they ever made a part two of this movie, she’d still be living in that same ratty complex while turning her spare bedroom into a cat farm. Basically, she spends the entire movie trying not to get murdered and Sheen spends it trying to fuck her. Classic Charlie.
Emilio, Keith, and the Kidnapped Pizza Man: Now nothing is funnier than a garbage man, Vietnam vet, and grown-ass pizza man carrying around a corpse while only armed with a pellet gun. And what they do to those poor cops who get in their way is something convicts jerk off to (for two reasons).
The Cops: You know what they say about tight shirts, tight pants, and tight mustaches…loose buttholes. Ok, I just made that up, but these two are hilarious. Jim Dangle took notes from these guys; I’m sure of it. They walk in sync, talk in sync, and I’m pretty sure they’re into Nsync. They fail at almost everything, and they spend most of the movie harassing garbage men because that’s the only profession on the social hierarchy they’re above.
Frost and Lazinski: The doppelgangers of Emilio and Charlie. Two rival garbage men hell-bent on destroying the seed of Martin Sheen. One is a white Rasta (an inherently buffoonish and embarrassing thing to be, but at least it‘s an ethos), and the other (Lazinski) transcends and eludes all titles and explanation. He wears a leather vest over his white t-shirts, sports a John Wattersesque goatee, and behind the wavy hair and bulging eyes, there is an indescribable pain. Childhood molestation probably. He’s still trying to find his place in this crazy world. Nothing was ever his fault, but that doesn’t change the fact he’s cursed to carry on a lifelong friendship with a white Rasta while working as a garbage man. His pain is so palpable. His fate so grim. Even a bag of exploding shit did nothing to cover his misery.
The Hitmen: For a movie with acting this shitty, for two guys to stand out as cartoonish says a lot. One carries a taser, but this was when tasers, CD players, and chicks shaving all the pubes were just futuristic notions we knew nothing of. I should also mention here that the taser actually shoots lightning bolts! Did the producers even know what a taser really was? Also, their license plate read, “Hitmen,” which was either an insult to the intelligence of this criminal duo or the viewers. Either way, I‘m making a trip to the DMV this week.
The Criminal Mastermind and his goons: The antagonist here is a gentleman who seemed like an evil, less realistic version of Max Headroom who says he’s determined to poison the ocean…and then proceeds to put barrels of toxic waste into the ground. OK? None of it made any sense, especially when his 40 henchmen lost in a bare knuckle brawl to Keith David, a pizza guy, two garbage men, and a girl. Apparently, you can knock a guy out by punching him in the shoulder. They just ran up, got punched once, fell down, and were never to be seen again. That’s probably what fighting people in a bingo hall is like. If I ever had like nothing to live for, like if I caught AIDS or knocked up some chick, that’s what I’d do: Just go all nuts and see if I could beat up every single person playing bingo for the fuck of it, just lock the door behind me and go all batshit!
So yeah, that’s the movie. The only real reasons to see it are Keith David‘s performance, to get a full understanding of why Charlie Sheen is a TV actor and Emilio isn‘t working, and to appreciate it as a representation of the Brackish era.