men at work photo

by Travis Vogt

I understand why Hollywood is constantly remaking and reimagining popular properties. It’s a pretty shallow artistic choice, but there’s solid business logic behind it: people liked the movie once; maybe they’ll toss their money at it again when it’s revamped and modernized. Also, name recognition is huge. The entire blockbuster model these days is based on familiarity. Creating new characters and scenarios can risky. Besides, going back to the well works. Eight of the top ten biggest moneymakers of 2015 were sequels or franchise extensions (the other two, The Martian and Inside Out, came from a best selling novel and a beloved brand name).

The problem is, remakes only make sense on paper. Amazingly, it turns out nobody wants to see a sterile, PG-13 remake of Robocop, Total Recall or Point Break. The obvious reason for the failure of these kinds of movies is that the original movies already got the job done. I don’t know if you’ve watched Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop lately, but it’s not exactly a groaning, musty old snore-fest. It’s still as brutal and hilarious as it ever was. Everyone still loves Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, because he nailed it the first time. Red Dawn can’t get any more wonderfully bonkers.

So how about this for an idea: if film executives insist on being lazy and derivative, how about remaking failed movies with great premises?

My first choice for such a treatment would be a terrible little movie called Men At Work (1990). Full disclosure: this was one of my favorite movies when I was 12—all the proof you need that I was a particularly dumb 12 year-old. Okay, if you need more proof, I was also a huge Charlie Sheen fan. It makes absolutely no sense, but it’s true. How the hell was I a Chuck Sheen fan in 1990? I hadn’t even seen any of his actual good movies (Wall Street, Platoon or Major League) yet. Was it just because I was so blown away by his work in Navy SEALS and his (admittedly great) cameo in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?

I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible act of bad taste. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone, and this old man is all that’s left.

But I digress. In 1990 my inexplicable favorite actor teamed up with his brother Emilio Estevez (who also wrote and directed) for a dipshit comedy about two garbage men who get caught up in a murder plot after finding a corpse in a garbage can. I ate it up at the time. Thought it was hilarious how they spied on and stalked a lady and occasionally tied people up to look like they were having anal sex with each other (okay, only twice). As you might imagine, this movie does not hold up today. Hell, I’m pretty sure it didn’t hold up then (it got a 30% on Rotten Tomatoes). I watched it recently and found it to be just as off-putting as a movie about Charlie Sheen handling garbage should be.

But take a look at this teaser trailer, featuring exactly zero footage from the actual movie:

I have to say, with the exception of the two stars, I totally want to see this movie! It’s seems to be about two cool garbage men who don’t give a fuck. We don’t learn anything else about the plot, but don’t you want to watch a movie about cool garbage men? Or garbage men in general? If they happen to end up solving a murder or whatever, more the better. Is it just me?

I always loved garbage men. The G-men in my neighborhood were really nice. They always smiled and waved at me when I was totting off to school in the early morning. They got to ride around in big, loud, dirty trucks with powerful pneumatic compactors built in to them. Plus, there was always a guy just standing on the back bumper while the truck was in motion. No safety harness or anything. Wearing a sweet orange jumpsuit. So badass.

It’s just me, isn’t it? I remember telling my mom I wanted to be a garbage man when I was really young and she flashed a worried look and immediately changed the subject.

But even if you don’t think garbage men are inherently awesome, surely you can agree that they are the most important public servants in the civilized world. They’re certainly more important than teachers, politicians and police officers. I’d even put them ahead of doctors, because just think of how many more sick people there would be if no one was hauling away our rancid filth. Garbage men are like offensive linemen—they’re not glamorous, nobody ever thinks about them, but they do the indispensable grunt work that makes all forward progress possible. They are truly our greatest living resource.

I want to see a movie about what it’s like to deal with everyone’s trash for a living. They get into a little bit of this in Men at Work; you see the process of collecting trash house by house and depositing it at the dump. You see them in the locker room after work, where they constantly engage in garbage man pranks with their garbage man rivals. I doubt that much of this is very realistic. I’d like to see a gritty comedy that gets into the specific details of the work and how it affects the lives of the people who do it. What are these people like? How do they blow off steam? How does the job affect their relationships? How do people treat them?

I’m sick and tired of movies about goddamn ad executives, writers, tech mavens and other urban professionals. Cops, doctors and soldiers get pretty well represented. We need more movies about people who do regular, essential, ground level jobs.

This hypothetical movie doesn’t have to be some verite, Dardenne Brothers-type exercise in brutal realism. It can actually hew somewhat close to the actual plot of Men At Work. Brushing aside his reprehensible characters and idiotic jokes, Estevez was on to something. Two garbage men find a corpse in a can while doing their regular duties and end up getting swept up in a vast corporate/industrial conspiracy. That actually seems somewhat plausible, as far as modern action movie plots are concerned. Plus, it’s the ultimate underdog story: the people who clean up our waste doing battle with the people who create the worst of it. Garbage Men vs. Monsanto. Give it to David Gordon Green or J.C. Chandor. The tone that Adam McKay nailed in The Big Short would be a perfect fit. Maybe this is out of left field, but I’d also love to see Katherine Bigelow take a crack at this sort of thing. But maybe that’s just because I think she should direct everything.

I’m not holding my breath, obviously. Hollywood likes to make movies about glamorous people with glamorous jobs. And superheroes. And classic monsters. Meanwhile, in a land of 350+ million, there are (generously) only about a million people in America with glamorous jobs. Superheroes and classic monsters stubbornly continue to not exist. I want to see some movies about real people being heroes. And as far as I’m concerned, garbage men are already heroes, so it won’t be that much of a stretch.

Travis Vogt is the editor of the Scarecrow Wire. Follow him @travisvogt. 

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