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A Dirty Job

Kenny Finds a sweet story in, well, crap.

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WARNING: Foul language contained within

An afternoon of stomach-churning carnival rides and greasy vendor food usually has us searching for the nearest Honey Bucket. Squatting in those confining plastic toilets, we probably don’t take time to acknowledge the fact that someone handles all our waste after the festival ends. Such unpleasant thoughts we tend to flush from our minds.

The 2006 film Kenny brings to the surface a subject we normally cringe at: poop and pee. Its eponymous hero installs and cleans public waste receptacles for a living. Almost two hours of excrement — sounds like the perfect vehicle for Adam Sandler’s juvenile brand of comedy, right? — Kenny actually hails from Australia, and makes its North American premiere at the Grand this Friday. Already having garnered multiple awards and won fans Down Under, Kenny smartly avoids the easy raunchiness of its premise, instead painting an enjoyable and sympathetic picture of a man — and occupation — that society ignores.

Kenny Smyth takes pride in his work. A stocky thirtysomething ever in overalls, he spends his days as an employee for Splash Down (company motto: “We’re #1 at dealing with your Number Two!”). Other people’s business is his business, shall we say. The film’s amusing opening scene has Kenny on the phone with a prospective client, getting information on an upcoming show (“Will curry be served?”) and calculating the number of stalls needed based on a “piss-and-s*** ratio.” The man has it down to a science.

Kenny trudges the Aussie event circuit with his crewmates, the neurotic Pat and volatile Sammy, maintaining porta-potties whilst attending to the various problems that inevitably bubble up in this line of work. Wedding rings lost in sewage, toilets set aflame by hooligans, a naked bachelor handcuffed to a stall — Kenny confronts the disgusting and the surreal with admirable perseverance and a winning sense of humor.

Though his barrage of puns and one-liners revolve around the same topic, viewers won’t tire of hearing them. The comic actor Shane Jacobson plays Kenny with an easygoing lisp, which helps assimilate the jokes into the fabric of the story seamlessly. The humor becomes all the more endearing for it seems to radiate directly from the heart of this man’s humble life.

One cannot separate Kenny the “crap crawler” from Kenny the individual — a fact the people around him find difficult to accept. Clients in expensive suits refuse to shake his hand, and hoity-toity users of Kenny’s facilities — those who think their you-know-what don’t stink — turn up their noses at his presence. Family members are ashamed of him, particularly his brother and father (played by Jacobson’s real-life relatives). The cantankerous patriarch constantly bemoans his son’s vocation as a “glorified turd burglar.” When Kenny visits Father, he makes Kenny change out of his clean work clothes before stepping into his home.

Other comedies might portray this protagonist as a shiftless loser afraid of joining the “real” workforce. Kenny’s odyssey to Nashville for the International Plumber and Cleaner Show later in the plot would usually serve as the hero’s chance to prove his mettle. But Kenny possesses self-confidence from the very start. He requires no sympathy and makes no apologies for what he does. It’s like what they say about dirty jobs: someone has to do them. The only party that must undergo a transformation in this conflict are those whose prejudices toward unappealing lines of work hinder them from enjoying relationships with decent people. When an attractive flight attendant manages to look past the overalls and initiate a sweet romance with Kenny, he finds what he lacks most: acceptance.

For a movie with crap on its brain, Kenny offers a surprisingly clean and refreshing change to the caustic gross-out comedies Hollywood pumps out.


Stars: Shane Jacobson, Travis Golland, Chris Davis, Alf Scerri and Hayley Preusker.

Director: Clayton Jacobson

Rated: PG-13

Theaters: The Grand Cinema

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