Odd-couple roommate pairings have been fodder for guffaws since, well, “The Odd Couple.” It’s become a tired and usually mirthless conceit. So you’d be forgiven for guessing that “Crash Pad,” whose story hinges on the concept, is yet another lazy, cable-unworthy comedy full of sorry slapstick and barn-broad humor. And you’ll be surprised to discover that it’s actually smartly written and expertly pulled off.
Domhnall Gleeson, Christina Applegate and Thomas Haden Church lead the cast in director Kevin Tent’s first non-action film — Tent is also executive producer Alexander Payne’s go-to editor — penned by a similarly inexperienced scripter, Jeremy Catalino. It’s to the filmmakers’ credit that when Church’s character moves in with Gleeson’s, wackiness does not ensue.
The tangle starts when Morgan (Applegate) tells two-night-stand Stensland (Gleeson) that she’s married, and it’s the last time they will see each other. He freaks out, accusing her of lying and questioning how it’s possible that she doesn’t share his strong feelings. Then Stensland spends a week sobbing on his couch and watching his VHS collection of “Dawson’s Creek.”
He then works up the energy to go to Morgan’s office and blackmail her, saying that he’ll tell her husband, Grady (Church), if she doesn’t fork over some cash. She bluffs and says that she already told Grady. Still, Stensland calls him and describes every lurid detail, to which Grady responds all “Taken”-like: “I’m going to find you. And then I’m going to kill you.” When he does find him, Stensland melts into cowardice. “Please don’t kick the ever-loving sh*t out of me!” he parrots back to Grady while on his knees. But Grady just wanted to scare the kid, and after criticizing the state of Stensland’s apartment, he leaves. Temporarily.
Grady’s decision to move in with Stensland — and, really, Stensland doesn’t have much choice — is a psychological chess move meant to deprive Morgan of the men in her life. And this is when the film starts dabbling in sexual stereotypes. Men get off fairly easily, being labeled only “brain-damaged apes.” But women are “catty hair-pulling harpies” who are working with an “irrational female intellect.”
These descriptions come courtesy of Grady, who has Morgan ID’d as only “Wife” on his cell and drags Stensland to clubs every night so he can “bang some strange” and get back at Morgan. Grady’s dismissive categorization of Morgan is an ugly few minutes, but sensitive Stensland balances him out, along with Grady’s true feelings.
Church and Gleeson make a crackling pair, with Church boasting a “Magnum, P.I.” mustache and Gleeson forever sporting the bedhead of sadness. While Applegate competently plays the straightwoman, the guys are perfect foils as the Manly Man and the Delicate Man.
Not that Stensland doesn’t know how to talk the talk: When he tries to rile Grady up and in turn prove his love for Morgan, Stensland yells out what he wants to do to Grady’s wife as Grady chases him around a building. Most deets are sufficiently dirty, but when he cries, “I’m going to put my willy in her!” you wouldn’t fault even Grady for laughing.
“Crash Pad” is still a Hollywood movie, however, so it follows the typical romantic-comedy path to happily ever after in the end. Because of the surprise that came before it, though, it doesn’t feel so eye-rollingly canned. As far as odd-coupling goes, this is a worthy resurrection.