The indie comedy The Bellmen stands in the tradition of ensemble comedies like Super Troopers and Waiting, chronicling the odd lives and codes of honor of working class workers. Set in an Arizona resort hotel near Tucson, the film opens with the initiation of Josh (Josh Zuckerman) as a bellman by the seasoned bell captain Steve (Adam Ray) and his team of bellmen. As a BIT (Bellman in Training), Josh has to cover a lot of ground, bearing up under hazing by his fellow workers and learning the complex code of the bellmen. Meanwhile, Steve tries to win the heart of Kelly (Kelen Coleman), a manager at the hotel, despite having been stuck as a bellman for the past twenty-seven years. Into this comes Gunther (Thomas Lennon), a New Age guru obsessed with hand hygiene, who soon bewitches workers and hotel guests alike.
The Bellmen is a bro-comedy that proves to be gentler than it initially appears. While there’s the usual ribbing of the new guy and one or two silly sex jokes, it never gets mean-spirited, nor does it rely on the sexism, gross-out humor, and bro-code that many comedies of its type use as substitutes for actual laughs. The jokes don’t exactly fly fast and furious – the comedy is mostly situational and rarely laugh out loud, yet there’s something kindly charming about the whole enterprise, evading easy laughs in favor of absurd situations, vignettes, and non-sequiturs.
While this is still a bro-comedy, the women do get a few chances to be funny, especially Susan (Anjali Bhimani), who walks into a management meeting already two steps ahead of everyone and ends it by flinging papers in the air and running out. But the women are mostly there for support and sexiness, with Gunther’s female companions used as props rather than fully fledged characters. This isn’t surprising, but one wishes that they’d been given a bit more to do.
While the majority of the cast are still more or less in their career infancy, three recognizable (and welcome) faces are Thomas Lennon, as the confusingly accented guru Gunther, Richard Kind as the hotel’s owner, and Willie Garson as Alan, the increasingly put-upon manager who keeps giving recalcitrant workers demerits in a system he’s made up. Lennon in particular helps to guide the plot and provides some of the film’s most entertaining set pieces as he spouts New Age platitudes and confusing metaphors that wander off into infinity. Lennon’s presence is referential here – after all, he made his name in this kind of comedy with Reno 911! – but he luckily doesn’t dominate the proceedings.
But the main cast, beyond the recognizable faces, do most of the heavy lifting, and a lot of the film’s charm is down to Adam Ray, who could have played Steve as an overconfident idiot. Instead, Steve constantly tries to hide his sense of inadequacy, his genuine romanticism, and his love of his job. Steve aspires to a management position not because he really wants one but because he think it will make him more attractive to Kelly. But his true love is being a bellman, and there’s a sweet silliness to the seriousness with which all the characters take their jobs that elevates the film even more.
The Bellmen aspires to cult heights in the same vein as Super Troopers, but it may not go down as a cult film simply because it’s far too nice. And that, to be honest, is what’s most enjoyable about it. Rather than relying on the jokes that have dated more than a few films like it, The Bellmen gives more space to absurdist humor (including a mysterious cactus) and even character development. Is it silly? Oh, very. But silliness is underrated, and The Bellmen proves that you can construct a film like this without relying on offensive comedy.
The Bellmen comes to iTunes, Amazon, Google, and Vudu in May.