Ray Romano and Kevin James face a bigger issue than just appearing in a semi-comedic role in a movie, ready to recite from the script and act however they and a director decide. Having spent years respectively on “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “King of Queens,” can they be tolerable for more than the 22 minutes that each of their shows run, and still do in reruns?
“Welcome to Mooseport” wasn’t a start for Romano, as he played a more intolerable variation of Ray Barone. “Grilled”, which must have garnered a DVD release after a theatrical release was deemed unmarketable (who would want to pay $7.50 to see actors that are free and already central to their shows on basic cable?), is still no help for Romano, who won’t likely find any vehicle to separate himself from the on-screen alter ego who made him rich. It’s not as big a problem for Kevin James, who was the only bit of fun in last year’s listless “Hitch.” Plus, as Doug Heffernan on his show, he’s playing the hefty man with a thin, attractive wife as numerous actors have done for years and decades. Mark Addy did it in “Still Standing” and the cliché goes all the way back to the original, The Great One: Jackie Gleason.
Even with Dave (James) shimmying up the side of his house (it must be his house as he’s there at the end of the film and it’s odd how eager director Jason Ensler is to show how estranged Dave is from his wife that he can’t knock on the door) to see his daughter, whom he worships, James is mildly intriguing with Dave’s arduous job as a door-to-door meat salesman, business partner to Maurice (Romano), who wants to be a certified acupuncturist and to show us with a hammer slammed on our heads that he’s not a family man like Dave. He tries to convince the waitress at a diner, whom he’s known, to spend some time with him and she brands him crazy to suggest that. Dave is genuinely concerned about his work. He needs the money. And where Romano will always be saddled with his Barone baggage, James can look solemn and he can create any number of worried men. But like the real estate salesmen in “Glengarry Glen Ross”, their leads haven’t been producing anything and why would they? Door-to-door meat salesmen in Sherman Oaks during the summer months? At each house, they pull out a catalog with color photos of each cut of beef, asking their prospective customers how thickly or thinly cut they like their beef to be and then, the pen. Dave gently prods them to “take it” and sign the contract. But one contract at the house of a voluptuous woman named Loridonna (Sofia Vergara) leads them into what they’ve never been trained for. The usual. Mobsters, hitmen, and Juliette Lewis in an embarrassing performance as Suzy that literally contributes nothing to the film. Loridonna, along with Maurice and Dave, goes to Suzy’s sizable house (actually belonging to the mobster Tony, and there’s much to say about him) after she’s threatened over the phone to cut her wrists and I wonder, after the first two minutes of her inane introduction, why she didn’t go all the way. Either Suzy is a woman who’s been so beaten down by her unheard of connections with the Jewish mafia, led by Burt Reynolds as Cookie Goldbluth, or she simply drifted into this house. Is it cruel to think that extremely about one character? In this case, no. Try it.
Now to Tony. It seems that since “The Sopranos” became popular, every actor who gets a chance to play a mobster anywhere else wants to play it to the hilt, just like any actor who plays the President of the United States. Kim Coates does, and it’s a pretty empty role. Black shirt, slightly charismatic personality, a love and taste for all things expensive. Dave, knowing that he could have been shot earlier if Tony had been a tad more psychotic, simply sits back and lets him lead the way on his barbecuing techniques. It’s also good salesmanship to let the customer prattle on a little bit. But really, there’s nothing remotely interesting about Tony or any of the other men, sadly including Michael Rapaport, in this mafia, at least until Reynolds appears and he gets the best deal: A small and surprisingly entertaining role.
But even with James and Reynolds providing something of substance in “Grilled”, there’s nothing else. Some would believe that by just having Romano and James in a film together that there’s already nothing. And that’s about 90% true. Romano’s got a beard in this one and has fortunately rid himself of Barone for “Grilled”, but there’s nothing to be found in his character either. And the only way to know that is the hideously empty feeling that’s left after these 77 minutes are over. It’s actually 83 minutes, with the end credits, but your will to live might end at 77, or who knows, you might actually find an amusing last name in the end credits to use in a novel you might be writing. But if you’re a smart writer, you’ll use “Hauser” and not watch “Grilled.” Your sanity will lay you for it.