Actor/director Paul DeSimone emerged on the indie film scene in the mid-section of the last decade with a pair of quirky documentaries that followed his intensive training as a champion bodybuilding athlete: “The Underground Lifting Video” (2003) and “The Gym Warrior Video” (2005). Following those releases and a supporting role in the 2005 comedy “Land of College Prophets,” he seemed to disappear from sight. Fortunately, he is back as a director and actor with the delightfully off-kilter comedy “Arny.”
DeSimone plays the title character, a hostile muscleman who barely seems to contain his roid rage. Wearing a hideous mullet and baggy sweatpants with an American flag motif (one leg has white stars on a blue background, the other leg offers red and white stripes), he looks like a refugee from the 1980s. This tactless and tacky individual makes his presence known through loud and frequently discombobulated sentences barked in an utterly indecipherable accent.
To Arny’s good fortune, he winds up managing a gym while the venue’s harried owner labors to fix problems with his fickle girlfriend. But Arny turns out to be the gym manager from hell: peddling “juice,” giving utterly inappropriate advice on a variety of subjects (such as recommending steroids as a condiment on a bologna sandwich) and bullying anyone who even vaguely annoys him. In one of the film’s funniest sequences, Arny reacts to a pair of Girl Scouts who disregard the gym’s ban on loitering by grabbing a baseball bat and swinging at the terrified kids with Hank Aaron-worthy power.
“Arny” is broken into a series of mostly self-contained skits involving the bizarre denizens of the title character’s workplace. Anyone who’s pumped iron will recognize the brand of gym rats that turn up in Arny’s world: the narcissistic trainer who hogs the equipment for himself, the somewhat skanky women who prowl the weight machines in search of Mr. Right Now, the would-be WWE titans who imagine vast musculature on their puny torsos, and the enigmatic bodybuilders who prefer the company of barbells to their fellow fitness enthusiasts. “Arny” also brings along fun ancillary characters including a pair of sloppy security guards and a “Lord of the Flies”-worthy collection of feral children who harass and assault unsuspecting adults.
Not everything in “Arny” flows smoothly: a few skits fall flat, a lot of the editing is need of polishing, a gay male supporting character overdoes the swishing and the film’s ending comes up abruptly.
But when “Arny” clicks, it offers a devastating satire of gym life. And when DeSimone is on screen, the film rocks with his extraordinary force of energy. Whether he is laboriously peddling a bicycle down a street while spewing George Lucas-worthy sound effects or whether he bemoans the lack of gym etiquette before whacking a dim powerlifter across the chops, “Arny” delivers XXL-sized laughs.