One of the nearest equivalents to Cabin Boy is the bizarrely hyper-real absurdism of Tim Burtons own Pee-Wees Big Adventure (1985). The film definitely has a surreal Burton-esque eccentricity to it when the ship is blown by the winds we see the faces of clouds puffing away in the sky; the Moon has a face; the ships figurehead (played by no less than talkshow queen Ricki Lake) is animate; there are encounters with ice giants, a half-man half-shark and a six-armed, blue-skinned seductress who is married to a giant who has renounced hunting to run a hardware store; and, in the most Burton-esque moment, the hero, suffering from heat exhaustion, has hallucinations of giant cupcakes and the ghost of a drowned crewmember. All of this is presented as perfectly natural and accepted without question by the characters in the film.
The hero of the piece is played by Chris Elliott who has built a career of sorts playing grown men who have failed to leave behind their adolescence. This is clearly a personal project for Chris Elliott who provided the films story and even cast his own father as his characters father. Elliott plays the role in the Pee-Wee Herman vein an obnoxious character whose blithe arrogance and self-assumed superiority is presented with such extravagant flourish that his comic rebuffs by the rest of the world are naturally deservous. It is what literature calls the conte cruel. In this regard, Cabin Boy is perhaps the closest any American film has come to the black absurdism of Monty Python it has much in common with, in particular, Terry Gilliams Jabberwocky (1977). In both Jabberwocky and Cabin Boy, the hero of the piece has a naivete that borders on complete idiocy; in both cases, the hero travels through various fantastic situations, during which they become the butts of black, almost sadistic, directorial misfortune. Both profess romantic yearnings toward the heroine only to be constantly rebuffed Im always flattered when a psychotic becomes smitten with me, Melora Walters tells Chris Elliott at one point. It is notable that where Cabin Boy allows its hero acceptance at the end of the film, Jabberwocky ends on a more pessimistic note.
Cabin Boy is more bizarre than it is ever funny. Certainly, it does have its moments in many of the scenes where Chris Elliott is rebuffed and carries on without even noticing. There is an amusing encounter with Ann Magnusons six-armed seductress, which spoofs the cryptic riddles of heroic quests upon returning to win the heroine, Chris Elliott announces: Im now going to show you everything Ive been taught I only pray that Im not thrown off by your lack of four additional arms. Unusually so for a Tim Burton film, the effects sequences are weak the stop-motion animation of the ice giants being particularly so-so.
Adam Resnick has yet to direct another film. He went on to write Lucky Numbers (2000) about a lottery scandal and the Danny DeVito directed Death to Smoochy (2002), a black comedy about a psychotic childrens tv host.