The Shrimp on the Barbie

The Shrimp on the Barbie. Unity Pictures 1990.

Before watching the movie:

I’m not sure I’ve encountered a solo Cheech Marin vehicle before (aside from that weird kids’ songs album where he’s a school bus driver). I’ve only ever seen him since Tommy Chong or in an ensemble or as a cameo.

It’s also an interesting idea to blend him with Australian culture. I certainly never would’ve thought to put the two together. He can be the scruffy, embarrassing fish out of water anywhere, but Australia isn’t really a common setting to throw such fish into.

After watching the movie:

Carlos Munoz arrives in Sydney planning to build a new life for himself from finding better opportunities than he had in Los Angeles. After a very brief stint as “The Pakistani Elvis”, he is hired by the owner of a failing Mexican restaurant to be the waiter with an opportunity to be co-owner if they can pay off the $5,000 the bank will need to collect soon. Heiress Alex Hobart has never brought home a boyfriend her father likes, but is determined that she’s going to make Sir Ian give his blessing to her marrying fratboyish rugby star Bruce. Sir Ian refuses, but offers that the next man she brings home, he will welcome unequivocally. In order to make her father miss Bruce, Alex offers the klutzy waiter who ruined their Mexican restaurant dinner $5,000 to spend the weekend at her parents’ home playing the part of the loudest, lewdest, most unsuitable trashy American fiancé ever.

The fake lovers ruse story is a pretty common romantic comedy trope, but setting it in Australia is a novel idea. I would qualify that with “novel to American audiences” if it was a movie of Australian origin, but it appears that it was produced by a company based in either the US or Canada or both. The writers are all Americans. So setting the story in Australia is just an unusual idea that enhances the flavor. Nothing functionally would’ve really had to change if it was set in Southern California or New York City and Upstate New York or somewhere in New England. But nobody ever puts together Mexican(-American) culture and Australian culture, and the friction created there is unique.

I’m sure that the Australian casting is full of notable Australian comedians that we in the States haven’t heard of. Terence Cooper seems familiar, but I’m not sure I’ve seen him in more than the 1967 Casino Royale and I’m just thinking of how he looks a little like Peter Cook. I thought Cooper sounded more British than Australian, and it turns out that he is, he’s just best known for taking a lot of roles in Australian productions. I’m not sure if Sir Ian is meant to be an Englishman living in Australia because that’s where his business is headquartered, or if he’s meant to be a wealthy Australian and you just don’t ask Terence Cooper to affect an accent because it spoils his gravitas.

This movie does delve a little heavily into ethnic stereotypes, but I think it’s mostly for the purpose of satirizing how people are often forced to play into the harmful stereotypes of their own ethnicity in order to get by, or depicting having to be civil with a hostile racist and being strenuously fetishized as ordeals that make the Hobart family not worth the charade.

I’m not sure why the director took his name off the movie (it’s officially an Alan Smithee film). It’s not great cinema, but it’s not trying to be. It hits all its beats and does it with unique charm and a sprinkling of humor.

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