There are some films that catch us at a specific moment in our lives and leave an indelible mark. Sometimes it’s a film that made you realize the limitless nature of storytelling, how much larger the world really is compared to our perception, or helped you discover something about yourself you didn’t realize to be true until that moment. 2022 release The Fabelmans is a chronicle of director Steven Spielberg’s life, a narrative which suggests that the camera holds hope, safety, and control where real life does not. 2021 release Violet offers insight to the destructive nature of intrusive thoughts and that voice which often guides us toward small and dark places. 2018 release Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse not only made the impossible task of bringing the world of a comic book to life marvelously, it taught us that anyone can wear the mask of a hero, they don’t have to have powers. Then there are other stories, stories which are mindless, thoughtless, and offer joy via their towering ineptitude. For my house growing up, that’s writer/director/actor Emilio Estevez’s 1990 action/crime/comedy Men at Work, starring Estevez, Charlie Sheen, and Keith David as three co-workers who get swept up in a dispute between a scummy polluter and the local politician. Courtesy of the MVD Rewind Collection, Men at Work is getting a first-time Blu-ray release in North America, providing an opportunity for old fans to travel back to a more innocent time.
Garbage collectors James (Estevez) and Carl (Sheen) see their day job as a jumping off point to get to their dream of opening a surf shop, yet they can’t be serious enough to not draw the ire of their co-workers, local police, and their boss. When reports come in of a commotion, they find themselves partnered with their boss’s brother-in-law Louis (David), a no-bullshit dude with unaddressed anger issues. On their first day with Louis, the trio find the dead body of local politician Jack Berger (Darrell Larson) who James and Carl recognize as the guy Carl shot with an air rifle the night before. Afraid that they’ll get blamed for the murder despite their innocence, they decide to investigate it for themselves, unaware of just how much trouble they’re about to find themselves in.
By the time of his 1990 release, Estevez had become well-known thanks to performances in The Outsiders (1983) and Repo Man (1984), as well as Brat Pack films The Breakfast Club (1985) and St. Elmo’s Fire (1985). He also completed Stakeout (1987), both Young Guns films, and Maximum Overdrive (1986). His brother Charlie possessed a similarly strong on-screen presence with Red Dawn (1984), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), The Wraith (1986), Platoon (1986), Wall Street (1987), the first Young Guns (1988), Eight Men Out (1988), and Major League (1989). Both actors possessed plenty of social cache and Men at Work can easily be classified as a project one does just to have some fun. Written and directed by Estevez, his sophomore outing in the director’s chair, Men at Work is, well, not good. At least, not when viewed through an adult lens. My 10- or 11-year-old self ate this film up, as did my two older brothers, likely accounting for the frequency with which I remember renting the VHS. Considering that the film basically functions via the charisma of the siblings and their chemistry with David (of which there is plenty), Men at Work is a fun film (Garbage guys being wacky! Bad cops publically shamed! Kidnapped delivery guy becomes trusted partner! Dead bodies are fine when you Weekend at Bernie’s them!), but doesn’t hold up under any real scrutiny. There’re several on-screen goofs, the narrative is flimsy at best, and individual character stories are given a great deal of setup before the appearance of the dead body with literally no payoff. And this doesn’t even get into the creepiness factor of Carl’s voyeuristic introduction and the unexplainable/sudden romantic portion of Leslie Hope’s Susan Wilkins character. When viewed through the lens of (a) it was the ‘90s and (b) the basic tameness of the danger this film flirts with on-screen and thematically, it’s still a good time if only because Estevez, Sheen, and David are so great together.
Of the things that don’t age well that I wish were explored with greater depth but are commendably explained on-screen through performance and costuming is David’s Louis Fedders. Without him, a lot of the film doesn’t happen the way things go down. Either Carl, James, and Susan die or the entire cover-up is discovered sooner without that character. His significance is because he’s a Vietnam war vet with untreated PTSD. Looking at Estevez’s later works, films like Bobby (2006) and The Public (2018), the actor clearly has an interest in social issues, like his father Martin Sheen (The West Wing/The Departed), so the inclusion here is intentional and specific. Louis, we learn, hates cops, which is why he doesn’t encourage Carl and James to tell the two cops who come upon them with the dead body of the discovery *even though Louis knows through an examination of the corpse that these two aren’t responsible.* This likely stems from the notably horrible treatment of Black service members in… well, pick a war. Then there’s a line of dialogue from Louis in which he expresses his frustrations with being told to just bury his pain. In short, he came back different and, rather than being able to get treatment, he was forced to hide it, which only caused it to fester, hence his outwardly sour and aggressive demeanor. None of this is explored in any clear way, of course. The film is a comedy hybrid and there’s nothing funny about PTSD. Yet, one can’t help but wonder what Men at Work would’ve looked like as a 120-minute comedy instead of a 98-minute one where Louis gets to be more than the cause of several physical or situational comedy moments. Again, these are not things my adolescent brain noticed and, therefore, did not consider, which is why my fondness for the film held firm with decades between viewings.
Now for while we’re all here: the Blu-ray.
Men at Work is presented in 1080p High-Definition with LPCM 2.0 Stereo audio. What this means is that this looks great for when it was released, but the audio won’t feel like it matches up without 5.1 surround support. I frequently had to adjust the volume until I found a balance so that the dialogue could be understood clearly while the score, foley, or special effects wouldn’t require immediately dropping the decibels. There’s no indication in the press materials as to whether this is just a HD conversation or a restoration and from what materials the Blu-ray was created, so I can’t speak to the process of making the release. I can say that it looks good for a film from the 1990s and it’s got the sound to match. As this is very much a niche release, we should just be glad that it got made.
Though there are no materials on-disc save for a theatrical trailer and English, French, and Spanish subtitle options, for folks who are fans of the film, included is a one-sided collectible mini-poster of the cover art of the MVD Rewind Collection edition. Also, the cover artwork is reversible, allowing for a trade between the MVD Rewind cover art and a version that’s far more minimal and makes the case look more like the yellow barrels the bad guy of the story deals in.
The older I’ve become, the more I’ve had to make peace with the films I loved as a kid. Some, I think, continue to hold up (Hudson Hawk (1991), The Meteor Man (1993), Mortal Kombat (1995)); whereas others just don’t maintain that shine due to a shifted perspective and generally altered taste in entertainment. But that doesn’t mean that Men at Work, as a whole, isn’t worth the effort, as it still entertains. It may not be as funny as it once was, but it reminds fans of Estevez, Sheen, and David that these actors were some of the best at the time. Thankfully, there is current evidence of at least Estevez and David that this remains to be true.
Men at Work Special Features:
- High Definition (1080p) presentation of the main feature in 1.85:1 aspect ratio
- Audio: LPCM 2.0 Stereo
- Optional English, French and Spanish Subtitles
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Reversible Artwork
- Collectible Mini-Poster
Available on Blu-ray January 24th, 2023.
For more information, head to MVD Entertainment Group.