1996 - PG-13 - 80 Mins.
|Director: John Payson
|Producer: Bonni Lee and Diana Phillips
|Written By: John Payson
|Starring: Jerry O'Connell, Megan Ward, Billy West, Reginald Hudlin and Jim Turner
|Review by: Bill King
It’s a rare thing to see a movie that kills someone’s promising career. It’s happened a few times during the medium’s existence; it happened again in 1996. While Megan Ward will never be remembered as a great actress, she still had an appealing movie star quality, provided by her effortless onscreen charm and incredibly beautiful appearance. She rose from the ashes of Full Moon Entertainment b-movies and gained some popularity with 'Encino Man' and 'PCU.' Then along came 'Joe’s Apartment.'
Megan Ward, where have you gone?
John Payson’s adaptation of his MTV short film is a startling example of failed ambition. Given a bigger budget by Miscellaneous Television (the Music went away a long time ago) to expand that idea, he basically produced an unsightly feature-length wasteland absent of any original ideas. He hit pay dirt when he latched onto lovely Megan Ward to co-star, but this proved to be a black hole in her at the time progressing filmography. The subsequent failure of 'Joe’s Apartment' sent Payson's film career nowhere, where it belongs, but the whole mess also turned out to be Ward’s last major movie. I don’t know the details, but I’d like to believe that her confinement to direct-to-video schlock and TV guest appearances isn’t self-imposed.
Jerry O’Connell stars as Joe, a college graduate who must have been either the campus doofus or a pampered jock, because he shows up in New York City, one of the most expensive places in the country to live, with no idea what his job is going to be. In the meantime, he rents an apartment in the nastiest part of town to curtail high rental prices. The building is home to singing cockroaches that sound like members of an Alvin and the Chipmunks tribute band. They get into every little thing in the apartment, offer unsolicited advice and otherwise thrive in this pigsty. Payson made the apartment as dirty as possible, for no good reason that I can think of, especially since cockroaches aren’t exclusively located in garbage, but also in humid environments.
The apartment’s conditions are inexcusable. There’s food all over the floor, the refrigerator contains mold, the walls are cracked, and the sink is full of old dishes. Joe makes no effort to clean the place up. At one point, he wakes up in the morning and his cereal and milk are already on the table. He even leaves piss-stained underwear on the floor, which is not the thing to do when you invite your girlfriend over and hope to receive a little oral action. How does Payson expect us to care about this slob? He’s the hero, yet we can’t sympathize with his plight.
He’s hopelessly in love with Lily (Ward), a telephone operator and a gardening enthusiast. She wants to turn Joe’s neighborhood into a community garden, but her hopes are dashed when the cockroaches freak her out, and when her father (Robert Vaughn) hires two thugs to trash the garden so that he can build a prison there instead.
Joe tries to impress Lily by inviting her to see him play in a band, but his inability to play draws boos from the crowd. The leader of the band, a guy named, yes, Walter Shit, is a performance artist who suddenly disappears from the narrative after the movie establishes him as the goofy sidekick.
'Joe’s Apartment' is purposefully rancid. It promotes itself as a musical, with song and dance numbers by the cockroaches, but the songs are uninspired. Amongst the foolishness going on here, it’s strange to see Megan Ward kept high in orbit, as if Payson wanted her to be the angelic center of goodness to offset the doses of slime. Her character is improbably tolerant of Joe’s lifestyle. Too bad he couldn’t put her in a better movie. As I wait fruitlessly for the day Megan comes back with a theatrical release, even a modest one (film festivals don’t count), I'll always remember 'Joe’s Apartment' as her Achilles’ Heel.