The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Review of The Amateurs!

Written by: The Red Baron, CC2K Staff Writer

The Red Baron Strikes The Amateurs at this year’s Newport Beach Film Festival. 


Image Courtesy of Bauer Martinez

Porn flicks.

We all love ’em. Yeah, even you, all the way out there in the CC2k forums, Bartelby Didja.

As long as cinema has existed as an entertainment medium, porngraphic cinema has persisted alongside it. Yes, dear readers, from the innocent turn of the century strip tease at the local nickelodeon, to a dvd copy of She Loves Big Balls Vol. 4, the economic and cultural value, no matter how taboo or fringe, of adult films is undeniable.

Now, what would you say if I told you I recently saw a porn film featuring the acting talents of Jeff Bridges, Tim Blake Nelson, Joe Pantoliano, William Fichtner, Ted Danson, Patrick Fugit, Lauren Graham, and Jeanne Tripplehorn?

Maybe something like, "Oh, yeah! Slice me off a piece of that hot, wet Tim Blake Nelson action!”

(The Red Baron chuckles)

Okay, so, maybe it’s not a porn film per se – but it is a film. And porn does feature heavily in it.

It’s entilted The Amateurs. It was written and directed by a kind gentleman named Michael Traeger, who I had the pleasure of meeting during my recent sojourn down to the Newport Beach Film Festival . Now, one might say, what’s a kind gentleman doing enlisting such an impressive array of actors to make a movie about porn?


Bridges as Andy, concocting one of his pesky schemes. Image Courtesy of Bauer Martinez.

Well, it’s not about porn. Yes, throughout the course of the movie, the characters discuss and filmically explore such "adult" topics as the obligatory "White Girl/Black Guy scene," "Hot Lesbo Action,” "Threesomes,” and the importance of a "Girl Masturbating With Various Sex Toys.” But it’s not ABOUT any of that stuff, even though making a movie about that stuff would secure a hefty return on Mr. Traeger’s investment.

The Amateurs is about friendship, community and parenthood. How did Traeger pull off this hybridization of old-fashioned smut with old-fashioned moral values?

He starts by introducing us to the film’s protagonist, the good-hearted ne’er-do-well Andy Sargentee, played with sublime, homegrown perfection by Jeff Bridges. Andy’s one of these guys who doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, who has big dreams and aspirations, who’s loved by everyone who knows him, but just can’t get his shit together. He’s lived his entire life in the small town of Butterfield Falls, a fictional Anycity, USA, and has failed time and time again to make good on his various get-rich-quick schemes. Andy is so lovable, in fact, that he’s been able to get the entire town to invest in his schemes over the years. They never pay off, but Andy’s so enthusiastic, and so genuinely cares about his friends in Butterfield Falls, that they can’t help but continue to support him.


Just because Ted Danson’s bare ass is shown doesn’t mean this movie is about porn! Image Courtesy of Bauer Martinez.

Andy’s even lost his wife Thelma (played by Tripplehorn) because of his irresponsible financial behavior. But she still cares deeply about him, she just couldn’t stay married to a guy who couldn’t materially provide for her, and for their son, Billy. She’s already remarried – to a very rich guy named Howard who lives in a very large mansion outside of town. Howard’s able to provide Billy and Thelma with anything they could ever possibly need. Andy can’t even afford to buy his son a basketball for his birthday. We see Andy paying Billy a visit at Howard’s mansion, and and feel how embarrassed he is walking around inside a manifestation of everything Andy’s never been able to give. But Billy doesn’t care that his real dad isn’t filthy rich. All he wants his to spend time with his dad, who he thinks is the best dad in the enitre world. Thelma tries to assure Andy that Billy only needs his love. Howard goes out of his way to assure Andy that he’s no replacement for Billy’s biological father.

But Andy the Dreamer can’t process any of this. He still needs to find a way to become a success! And what better place to brainstorm than the local dive bar. It’s clear this is where Andy does most of his scheming, as illustrated by the sheer terror in the body language and hushed mutterings of the other patrons.

"Oh, no! Andy’s got that look on his face again!"

"Andy … whatever you’re thinking about … please stop! Don’t do it."

Because they know, whatever cockamamie idea Andy comes up with, they’ll have no choice but to participate.

And appropriately, the cockamamie idea ends up being, "WE’RE GONNA MAKE A PORN!"


Oh, shit! Is Andy scheming again? Image Courtesy of Bauer Martinez.


A gazebo in a park where Andy has called a town meeting, where he breaks down how much money is made in adult films each year, and particularly, how much money is being made selling adult videos that feature "real people" having sex on camera – rather than silicone-enhanced porn stars.

REAL FOLKS (The residents of Butterfield Falls) + HAVING SEX IN FRONT OF A CAMERA (Porn) = SERIOUS MONEY

Sounds like a formula for success to me!

What ensues is a hilarious comedy of errors and misadventures as our heroes struggle to find local performers and make their adult film.

We’re treated to some very unusual, very satisfying performances in this movie. Most notably:

JOE PANTOLIANO as Some Idiot. Yes, everyone in the town calls him "Some Idiot.” An innocent, taciturn, bashful middle-aged man who still lives with his mother, who ends up as the film’s Writer/Director. Very refreshing after his usual forays into Ralphie-Cifaretto-from-the-Sopranos tough guy archetypes. Instead of beating some guy half to death with a baseball bat and shaking down crooked city councilmen, we see him in horn-rimmed glasses held together by masking tape, working behind the booth of his own business: A Four-Day Photo Lab.

TED DANSON as Moose. A man who is as gay as the Pope is Catholic, but can’t bring himself to admit it to his closest friends. This is the first Ted Danson role I’ve really enjoyed in a long time. He makes the whole "proving to everyone that I’m not gay by constantly talking about all the women I’ve had in my life" scenario feel fresh again.

WILLIAM FICHTNER as Otis. An amicable fellow who earns a living as the groundsman for the local church. He tells Andy he really wants a position on the project that will allow him to be on set and do absolutely nothing but watch the sex being had on camera. You can hear the smile on Andy’s face as he says in his voice over : "Otis was made Executive Producer on the film"


Left to Right : Bill Fichtner, Amy, The Alien Bounty Hunter from the X-Files, The Red Baron at The Amateurs party at the Newport Film Fest. Image Courtesty of The Red Baron’s Cell Phone.

{jgibox title:=[A brief sidenote on Bill Fichtner (click to read)] style:=[width:320px;]}Does everyone realize how completely awesome this guy is? Who else can make the effortless transition from roles like Badass Special Forces operative in Black Hawk Down to the meek blind audio technician in Contact to the Confederated Products Rep. and Undercover Narc in Go, to the Conniving Yet Caring Sheriff Who Is Also an Alien Clone Tom Underlay in ABC’s hit show Invasion, to Otis: man who trims hedges at the Butterfield Falls Community Church? To say nothing of the fact that he and I share the same birthday.

Throughout production on these guys’ adult film – their friendships are tested, they overcome their fears and anxieties, and most of them learn something about themselves. I don’t want to give anything away, but I can say that by the time the film is finished, Andy manages to accomplish something that makes his son Billy PROUD of him. Something that make him PROUD that Andy is his dad. And it’s not because his dad becomes a porn magnate to rival Bob Guccione. No, it’s because of something that Andy is able to manifest because of what he learned about himself during the making of the porn film. Because of what the experience of following through on a project taught him, and gave him the courage to complete.

It’s really delightful.

OK, I’ll tell you about one scene that illustrates how this movie about a bunch of country bumpkins making a porn is really about a bunch of country bumpkins becoming better people.

Earlier in this review, I mentioned the "Girl Masturbating With Various Sex Toys" scene, that the guys felt their adult movie desperately needed. They end up convincing a local gal that Tim Blake Nelson’s character is in love with to do the scene for them. They pull it off. The footage is sexy. But soon afterwards, she tearfully admits to Nelson how much she regrets doing the scene. Nelson marches over to Andy’s house and explains the situation. "I love her Andy. I’m going to need that footage." Without batting an eye, or saying a word, Andy hands over the footage to Nelson, no matter what it means to their production. Nelson throws it into Andy’s fireplace. There’s no overwrought argument between the two of them that leads to the accidental destruction of the footage, or anything stupid like that. To these guys, some things are just more important than others. Great stuff.

Near the end of the movie, once the gal is informed what Nelson did for her, well….just go see it.

This movie is a slam dunk for all ages. When I saw it at the Delray Beach Film Festival back in March, the bulk of the audience were 70 years old or higher. They adored it. Because the central story of friends coming together for a common cause and a father striving to make his son proud remains at the top of everything else in the movie. That, and old people love dirty jokes…

The premise of The Amateurs is funny enough : a group of hapless small town simpletons set out to strike it rich by making a porn flick. But Michael Traeger was able to use this solid gold comedic premise to explore much richer emotional territory.

One of the producer of The Amateurs introduced the film to a packed theater down at the Newport Festival by telling them, "Listen….we’re opening this summer against Superman Returns. We need your grassroots support. Tell your friends about this movie. Go online and post comments in forums. Please, do whatever you can to make sure people know about our film!" I truly hope this review has done that to some extent. So please, dear readers, forward this review to everyone you know. Spread the cheer and good will. And the porngraphy-based humor.

The Amateurs
opens with a limited engagement in Los Angeles, and New York on July 21, 2006. Nationwide release to be determined shortly thereafter.