|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 30 March 1999|
This much can be said for ‘Joe’s Apartment’: it’s different. How different? Name another movie that focuses on singing cockroaches. No fair citing ‘Antz’ and ‘A Bug’s Life’: those are ants, ladybugs, caterpillars and grasshoppers. No, the stars of ‘Joe’s Apartment’ are the same little critters that few humans have anything kind to say about.
Joe (Jerry O’Connell) is newly arrived in New York from Iowa, who finally (through a twist of fate) finds an apartment. The place is infested with 40,000 talking cockroaches, but Joe is so easygoing and personally sloppy that he doesn’t really mind -- except when the kibbitzing creatures start to interfere with his work and love life. Another problem is a homicidal landlord, who wants the building emptied at all costs.
Writer/director John Payson has expanded his MTV short to feature length, and therein lies the rub. Once he gets past the concept and his admirable technical expertise on a budget, he doesn’t know where to go, so material that is quite funny in a 10-minute burst becomes pretty tiring over the 80-minute running time. Payson supplies just enough through-line to require some tedious exposition scenes, without setting ground rules or story twists that would keep us engaged beyond his novelty hook.
Still, the hook itself should not be underestimated. ‘Joe’s Apartment’ does have plenty of loony little highlights, starting with an a capella ode to New York, sung by the cockroaches over the opening credits. The giddily absurd, gleefully gross lyrics and music are by Kevin Weist, whose ‘Garbage in the Moonlight’ (heard in Chapter 7) is an ode worth of the Dr. Demento Show. Chapter 15 features roaches breakdancing and doing Busby Berkeley routines in a toilet bowl and Chapter 20 sends up the Beach Boys’ ‘Surfin’ Safari’ as the heroic if pesky roaches ride the waves of the New York sewer system.
The colors are cartoon bright and the music tends to be a bit high and tinny, a la Alvin and the Chipmunks, but this is the point (and if you think 80 minutes straight of this is a bit much, see above comments). O’Connell does a fine job of interacting with both digitally added and genuine cockroaches -- if there were some sort of acting award for maintaining a calm demeanor in squeamish circumstances, he’d be a shoe-in.
‘Joe’s Apartment’ is actually entertaining if viewed in increments. It does, of course, have a built-in brag factor, which brings us back to this crucial matter: if you want to be able to truthfully tell your friends that you’ve watched a movie with all-cockroach production numbers, this is a must-see.