Tinseltown has always been guilty of questionable, for lack of a better term, “creative” decisions. Look no further than the last couple of weeks at the movies for proof: Because no one asked for it, Freddie Prinze Jr. adds yet another to his inexplicable string of starring vehicles; and an inordinate amount of money and valuable energy continues to be expended on the wasteful task of trying to make Penelope Cruz a household name (Memo to producers and Ms. Cruz’s publicist: it’s not gonna happen). As it turns out, these annoyances were just a warm-up of sorts for the ultimate bafflement, one that will leave the most jaded Hollywood observer with a Prinze-like look of bug-eyed, slack-jawed shock: “Bubble Boy.”
Watching the trailer or any TV spots for “Bubble Boy,” it’s easy to stare in mouth-agape disbelief. Now, making a comedy that involves a young man stricken with an immune deficiency is not unheard of; after all, one of the most memorable episodes of “Seinfeld” involved a “bubble boy.” The difference with this film, however, is its relentlessly mocking tone. The plot is obviously designed for the audience to sympathize with the innocent Jimmy (Jake Gyllenhaal), who ventures into the outside world for the first time to make a cross-country trek to stop the wedding of the nice girl (Marley Shelton) he loves. But the level of humor pitched by director Blair Hayes and writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio runs counter to any such aim; that viewers are supposed to laugh at the wide-eyed Jimmy every time he stumbles and/or bounces in his bubble suit–and that happens a lot–says it all.
Not content to leave worse enough alone, Hayes and the writers apparently decided to pack in as many unfunny and potentially offensive jokes in Jimmy’s journey as possible. Jimmy’s ultra-conservative Christian mother (Swoosie Kurtz), who is singlehandedly responsible for Jimmy’s heretofore extremely sheltered existence, is but one of the insulting caricatures that appear in “Bubble Boy.” There’s also a Latino biker (Danny Trejo) who teaches Jimmy some Spanish terms that he can later butcher for “humorous” effect; a Hindu ice cream/curry salesman (Brian George) who gets all worked up when a cow becomes road kill; and a bar full of Chinese men whose “funny” accents are mocked. Are we laughing yet? If not, there are bits involving a little person (played by Mini Me himself, Verne Troyer) being treated like a baby because of his size. Ha ha ha.
To be fair, “Bubble Boy” does boast one laugh. Not so surprisingly, though, it has nothing to do with the writing, directing, or performances. In the midst of a really bizarre subplot (a welcome, if still unfunny, change of pace from the tastelessness evidenced in all the other plot threads) involving a sing-songy cult, there is a brief glimpse of the group’s leader, played by… everyone’s favorite “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” pitchman, Fabio. Perhaps the casting director should take up screenwriting or directing, for that faint glimmer of inspiration is the sole one in the abysmal abomination known as “Bubble Boy.”