Sexing Up Trailer Park Boys

The boys never wanted gratuitous nudity in their movie. Sure, their characters are thieving, dope-dealing con men who speak in dizzying syncopations of the f-word. And when Trailer Park Boys plays on Showcase, it's preceded by warnings for both coarse language and nudity. But the nudity alert is there, believe it or not, only because of the beer-bellied Randy, the assistant trailer park manager who always appears shirtless. The boys had always drawn the line at naked women. Until Hollywood insisted.

The boys were reluctant to mess with a good thing. Acquiring a fiercely loyal audience of over 300,000 viewers per episode, their deliberately low-rent cable show, now on the verge of its seventh season, had developed the comfy groove of a solid jail term. The show's stars - Robb Wells (Ricky), John Paul Tremblay (Julian) and Mike Smith (Bubbles) - were local heroes; they couldn't walk down a street in Canada without being mobbed. Then, in late 2003, Hollywood came knocking in the person of expatriate Canadian Ivan Reitman. As producer or director of such hits as Animal House, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Old School, Reitman is Hollywood's godfather of delinquent male comedy. And he wanted to take the boys to the big screen.

In late 2003, Reitman and his team met the boys at his offices in Beverly Hills, along with the show's producers and director Mike Clattenburg. Wells remembers sitting in a boardroom with a grand view of the Hollywood sign and being duly impressed. It was the first of many meetings, and some tough script negotiations. "We pitched a lot of crazy ideas that Ivan thought wouldn't work for a first-time audience," says Clattenburg. "He kept beating that into our heads - first-time audience. And a guy with those credentials, you listen.

"Nudity was something he insisted on," he adds. "And we were kind of like, 'I don't know if we really want to do that.' But he convinced us. He's the king of R-rated comedy, and he said, 'You've got to come up with some funny way to do it.' " Wells, who co-wrote the movie with Clattenberg, says Reitman was "adamant" about it. "He said the young male audience is expecting to see some nudity. We bickered about it for a while and finally compromised. I've never been a fan of it. But I guess it works under the circumstances."

Nudity was one of several issues that arose as the Trailer Park gang fought to stay loyal to their Canadian fans while Reitman tried to package the characters for a larger audience that's never seen the show. Wells says the boys began by pitching a movie "all about guns and dope," with the boys trying to smuggle pot across the U.S. border. Instead, they ended up with a romantic comedy that features a strip club, a wedding and a slapstick heist at the local multiplex. "I didn't want to siphon the juice of its East Coast Canadianism out of it," Reitman told Maclean's, "because that was what was funny and unique about it. I just wanted to make sure it would work as a movie for anybody who didn't know who the characters were."

Producer Barry Dunn, who helped create the series and plays Ricky's father, says, "Ivan wasn't dictatorial. But he was persuasive. He felt if we were going to take the show out of our home market, this is how you make a Hollywood movie. He steered it toward romantic comedy. I don't feel it was selling out - we always tried to maintain the characters' integrity. It's a hybrid, but I think it works."

He's right. Here's the bottom line: Trailer Park Boys the Movie is pretty damn funny. And the characters survive with their integrity as intact as the precarious glass of rum-and-coke that Julian carries like a gyroscope while the world crumbles around him.

It comes after a lot of strained attempts to concoct a broadly entertaining English Canadian movie. Men With Brooms (2002) almost cracked under the granite weight of its ambition as it caromed between romantic drama and antic comedy. Foolproof (2003), a generic heist flick, became a whipping boy for a Telefilm policy of underwriting Hollywood formula. Even this year's Bon Cop, Bad Cop, for all its roguish brilliance, is wildly uneven in tone - a manic confederation of farce and realism wrapped in the visual style of a car commercial. Besides, it's more French than English.

But for once here's a Canadian movie that is what it is: a no-frills, character-driven comedy that captures the rude charm, deadpan wit and down-home likeability of a beloved series. TPB the Movie may spring from an unholy alliance between a Hollywood mogul and the Atlantic heartland of Canadian comedy. But despite Reitman's role as an executive producer, this remains a modest, $5-million, all-Canadian production.

In the deeply fermented tradition of Strange Brew, Wayne's World and Fubar, it continues a fine pedigree of Canuck farce devoted to stoners, drunks, rounders and metalheads. Yet it breaks the buddy formula. The Trailer Park Boys are a gang, a power trio with the allure of a rock band; in that sense they have as much in common with Monty Python or Kids in the Hall as with the McKenzie brothers or Wayne and Garth. And next to the current Jackass vogue of gross-out comedy, TPB is almost genteel, even with its lexicon of weird profanities like "cockknuckles" and "dicklock." The boys are closer to Goin' Down the Road than to Girls Gone Wild.

TPB the Movie puts a fresh spin on familiar elements from the TV show. It begins with a robbery of an ATM machine that goes awry when Ricky's car, the Shitmobile, rolls through a storefront window. After a stretch in the slammer (the boys' second home), Ricky is furious when he's given early release to stop him from playing goal in a ball-hockey tournament against the guards. Back in Sunnyvale Trailer Park, the boys plan the Big Dirty, a scheme to steal a jackpot of small change from a multiplex - in the lobby, there's a poster for Foolproof, an in-joke that suggests this Canadian heist movie is anything but slick.

But it is sweet. When he gets out of jail, Ricky is shocked to discover that his girlfriend, Lucy (Lucy DeCoutere), has a job in a strip club and a brand new pair of breasts, courtesy of the slimeball club owner, Sonny (Hugh Dillon). Lucy is more than willing to marry Ricky if he could just get his life together, stay out of jail and go back to growing dope. And the two things that Reitman was wedded to - matrimony and nudity - happily converge. As Ricky proposes to Lucy, someone yells "Show us your tits!" and she pulls up her dress.

In Maclean's interviews, all three lead actors from TPB, as well as Clattenburg and Dunn, expressed doubts about the nude scene. "It's such a purely commercial moment," says Dunn. "To me, it was disingenuous. It was obviously a body double. And Lucy is a character we see every week on Trailer Park Boys. We've just revealed a part of her that in six years of television we've never shown." But to the boys' credit, they spin some hilarious dialogue out of the gratuitous nudity, subverting the whole notion of its commercial value. When Sonny pulls a gun and asks Ricky to pay $6,000 for Lucy's boob job, Ricky says Sonny has used the boobs more than he has, there's no way he's paying for "used tits," and besides, "I don't even like fake tits. I like Lucy the way she was."

In the TPB TV series, which starts its seventh season in April, Lucy will go back to the way she was, along with the rest of the boys, in a story that salvages material rejected for the movie. The movie and TV storylines will never cross, says Dunn. They exist in separate worlds. The series uses the mockumentary conceit of a reality show, which Reitman didn't want in the movie. "Originally Ivan wanted to go just totally Hollywood," says Wells. "but he did allow us to have interview clips in the end."

In negotiating with the boys, Reitman's long-time associate, New Brunswick-born producer Joe Medjuck, says "the biggest argument we had is that the movie should have a beginning, a middle and an end." But then he adds, "They're more talented than a lot of the people we deal with. And they fight. They were mostly worried about keeping their fans. We had the same problem when we made the Howard Stern movie [Private Parts]."

TPB is likely to find an audience in Canada. Next week Odeon Films will open it on some 170 screens, with a splashy Toronto premiere that will feature an appearance by the Big Dirty Band, a "supergroup" that includes members of Rush, Tea Party and Three Days Grace. But unlike SCTV's Bob and Doug McKenzie, or Saturday Night Live's Wayne Campbell, the boys are unknown in America. And when U.S. distributors were shown the movie at a private screening during the recent Toronto film festival, there wasn't exactly a feeding frenzy. "Nobody's arguing that it isn't funny," says Reitman. "They just have to be convinced there's a profit to be made. We're negotiating with three distributors to find the one that's most optimistic." Time will tell just how much those boobs are worth.

Maclean's October 9, 2006