Sometimes a comedy film comes along that goes misunderstood by nearly everyone who comes across it, with rapid-fire jokes that seem to fly over the audience’s collective head.
The film I am looking toward this time is 1997’s The Pest, a film so underrated and full of comedic flair that most audiences simply can’t handle it, mostly because they are wrongfully offended. I’m here to challenge the scathing reviews and widespread hatred by holding this film up as the Mount Everest of ’90s comedy, which it is. And to top it off, it prides itself on being a loose adaptation of the classic short story “The Most Dangerous Game”, which in my humble opinion pales in comparison to this amazing flick.
As with my other reviews, we’ll start with a glimpse of the flawless cast.
First, we have the improvisational genius that is John Leguizamo as the energetic and endlessly hilarious Pestario “Pest” Vargas,
the incredible pre-kiddie-porn bust Jeffrey Jones as Nazi art collector and human hunter Gustav Shank,
the normally unfunny Aries Spears (who’s absolutely flawless here),
and Freddy Rodriguez.
Together, they have managed to create what is undoubtedly the funniest, most original comedy of the ’90s, and it’s all carried by Leguizamo’s improv skills.
First, I would like to acknowledge the production company other than Tristar that helped give us this picture:
I don’t know whatever really happened to that company, but they should’ve put a bunch of other hits out. After looking at IMDb, I suppose they did, with great films such as A Simple Wish, Bad Girls from Valley High and Creature. We’re in good hands here, people.
At the start of this masterpiece, we are treated to Leguizamo introducing his character of scam artist Pestario in musical form, with him prancing around shirtless in his Miami home’s bathroom while mugging the camera often like this,
all while doing hilarious character impressions involving lines of dialogue I don’t remember them saying in any form, such as Alfalfa’s “I’m in the mood to scam, simply because I can!” I looked it up. It’s nowhere to be found.
He also performs some shining examples of quality toilet humor, uttering lines such as “ridic-a-lic-alis, like a booger I stick to this” before shooting foam out of his nose and immediately segueing into a shot of him in a Dracula outfit counting his farts in a Transylvanian accent,
something I never remember either Dracula or Count Von Count doing and can’t really find a reason for them to in the realm of comedy, but such is the unequivocal comedic genius of John Leguizamo. And this is only the beginning.
He does do one accurate impression of Ricky Ricardo for no reason, or maybe it’s to push the Latin thing, which he does a lot.
After much fast-paced and catchy jumping around and changing costumes, he walks into his bedroom flapping his arms around and making mindless faces while demanding that we “get stupid, get retarded, it’s time to get the party started”, and I’m all aboard this train.
It’s obvious that he really wants us to think about and appreciate all of the subtextual humor to be found in this film later, but his ironic voice in this opening sequence has gone over most audiences’ heads, I’m afraid.
Immediately following this ingenious song-and-dance number, Pestario is called into the kitchen by his father, where he says hi to and announces the names of each of his family members while imitating Beaver from Leave it to Beaver. Very clever and relevant. Then he sits down for a moment to eat breakfast until his brother condescendingly tells him that he’s “just a common hustler, man.” This gets some disco music to start as Pest gets up, announces that “there’s nothing common about the way I dance,” and slaps his brother with a napkin.
Then he dances with his mother for a moment before they both get too into it, Pest leans in for a kiss, and we almost witness mild Pest incest (pincest?) until he comically shouts “ew, Mom, eww!”, drops her, and promptly leaves the home.
Such a charming unusual family dynamic we’ve got going.
He leaves the home walking down the sidewalk with the ego of a thousand John Leguizamos, which would probably be equivalent to the ego of Jesus riding a T-Rex with a hot naked blonde on his lap. Or just somebody who’s on a shit ton of speed.
As Pest continues to walk off his egotism, we are introduced to the characters of Gustav Shank and his assistant Leo (played by the legendary Tom McCleister).
Gustav is looking for some kind of “prey” while using binoculars. At this point we don’t know if he’s a serial killer or a pedophile, but considering Jeffrey Jones’ past the latter doesn’t seem too implausible here.
Following Pest’s cleverly funny spoofing of Latino stereotypes at home, Pest chats with an Irish priest who’s privy to his scamming ways after Pest scammed the local fair’s milk bottle game for the priest, reinforcing a stereotype I didn’t even know existed about Irish priests. Pest makes fun of his accent by referencing Lucky Charms hilariously, and then we follow him to a kids’ basketball game, where he helps a “fat loser boy” win the game by shaming the other kids and taking their lunches. Then he continues his ego walk to the same beat we heard in the opening credits and again just a few moments ago.
Pest then gives the lunches to his friends, appropriately named Chubby (Aries Spears) and Ninja (Freddy Rodriguez), who pull up out of nowhere.
Ninja has a box which contains the materials of Pest’s next scam, which Pest says will make him “the king of corruption”, but this ego trip is brought to a brief halt when his buddies mention Pest’s debt of $50,000 to the Scottish mob.
In response, Pest mugs the camera with this charming expression which we will see many, many times, and which will never grow old and tired. Ever.
He also does the same Three Stooges slap to Chubby that he did to his brother earlier, adding to the brilliant slapstick which we will see many, many times, and which will never grow old and tired. Ever.
Pest mentions that the goal of this scam is to convince people that he is “bliiiind.”
Cut to the next scene where Gustav and Leo show up to a Latin festival in their Hummer and Gustav comments on how small those little Latinos are compared to them.
Then we see Pest talk to his girlfriend Xantha (Samantha?) er, uh, yep, it is Xantha, according to IMDb. Their relationship is so great and mostly involves Pest teasing her and insulting her friend with the world’s most unfortunate name of Malaria, who calls him a loser for missing dinner with Xantha’s parents the previous night. After Pest insults her ass, she says “these jeans make me look fat,” to which Pest retorts, “No, your fat butt makes you look fat,” making this smart face right after, sure to win over Xantha’s affections:
However, this backfires unexpectedly and Xantha walks away with her lips upside-down.
But then he charms her again immediately with some more mugging and empty promises of meeting her parents the next night.
Ninja and Chubby then inform Pest of a pool party at Chubby’s because his parents will be gone, even though the guy is obviously in his late twenties at least. Just living the easy life of a ’90s Miami bum.
But back to Pest’s ingenious “blind man shell game” scam.
It seems to go well with much enjoyable mugging,
until he catches a soccer ball and taunts the jock who kicked it, the very same jock that Gustav eyes in the crowd as “the specimen” he wants. This isn’t really any less creepy than I thought it would be so far.
However, Gustav hands the binocs to Leo, who holds them up and mistakes Pest for the “specimen” in question.
After Leo decides to follow Pest, the Scottish mob of course shows up to the Latin festival and knocks Pest’s scam table down, demanding money.
Pest starts making fun of them while keeping up the blind act, and gets beaten a little while mugging and using his usual loud cracking voice.
He makes fun of the emotionally challenged and epileptics for a brief moment because they’re also disabled like the blind, and then he rips off the men’s kilts to reveal one of them wearing frilly underpants, adding to the humor that is the womanly Scottish kilt. Genius.
Pest takes shelter as a Chinese delivery boy in a Chinese restaurant, moving right on to our next stereotype. Leo sees him enter and makes no attempt to remain inconspicuous, being the expert spy he is.
When Pest takes shelter inside and imitates the Asians around him, his new boss seems suspicious, which gives Pest more time to make faces,
and which also allows him to indulge in making fun of the obvious stereotypes of many Chinese people being from “far far far South” and eating grits because they’re from the South, with the throwaway line of “eat some grits y’all, okay, okay.” This is brilliant because he’s willing to reach for stereotypes here that most don’t even think about even at a subconscious level.
He also indulges in an hysterical scene where he draws sympathy from the restaurant’s owner because they supposedly killed and prepared Quacky, his pet duck.
While there, Pest gets a moment of privacy to call the Scottish mob, cleverly burp over the phone when the head tells him to take him seriously, and we get a dying-from-laughter moment when one Scotsman plays the bagpipes after the Pest makes the joke that it’s Sean Connery’s birthday.
By the way, the head of the mob is played by Charles Hallahan, who played Norris in the horrible John Carpenter shit flick The Thing. It’s great to see his career finally went somewhere after all those years.
After Pest hangs up in disagreement over the debt, the restaurant owner brings him his duck Quacky in the form of a delicious fried meal as an apology, but when Pest starts to eat it, the owner promptly has a change of personality and tells him that he has no time for that, and that he has a delivery to make, even though he’s already been made aware that Pest doesn’t actually work there. But we have to move this plot along somehow, and John Leguizamo, David Bar Katz and Paul Miller clearly know how to do that better than anybody.
So, we follow Pest to his destination, while listening to the same beat we’ve heard three times before, but which will never grow old and tired. Ever.
The destination just happens to be Gustav’s luxurious Miami home.
Gustav and Leo have a chat about the “Latino specimen” they’ve been searching for, and Gustav is angry to find that the delivery boy childishly bouncing a ball off the glass windows in the foyer is the one Leo thought he wanted. I would like to wonder how Leo could request the services of a specific delivery man who doesn’t even work at the restaurant, but then I’d be needlessly questioning the coherence of this basic plot, which Miller and Leguizamo clearly thought out.
Although a bit unhappy, Gustav is impressed to learn from Leo that Pest is a scam artist and will be killed by the Scottish mob in two days because of unpaid debt, and decides to make him an offer for a fake scholarship. Pest eats the food meant for Gustav and he talks a mile a minute like his usual self while mugging some more.
Never mind the painting of the questionably young-looking nude woman in the background.
Gustav casually removes some items from Pest that he’s tried to steal from the home while Pest continues to manically spew jokes so fast and simple that I don’t even have time to catch them all, the mark of a true improv specialist.
Pest gets excited at the prospect of Gustav’s scholarship because he’ll get a bunch of money, $50,000 to be exact. He agrees to do what it takes to earn it. He’s then subjected to some of Gustav’s physical tests where he gets to mug much more, spawning a few hilarious, original moments.
After failing the tests, that night at the house, Pest teases the Germans about being German and starting wars, and we get an absolutely classic scene where Pest repeats everything Gustav says about him failing, in his accent, as Gustav is saying it.
This little annoyance causes Gustav to turn things around and Pest gets to try for the scholarship, signing a contract while reading some of the fine print involving death and still signing.
Pest asks what kind of animals are on the island he’ll be on during the “hunt” he must partake in, and Gustav and Leo are for some reason confused about how to answer when they each say “goose” and “deer”, coming up with the “deergoose”, which got me rolling until I nearly puked.
The next day they all fly in Gustav’s chopper to the island, where Pest investigates Gustav’s office and finds a bunch of pro-German and pro-Nazi memorabilia. He also reads titles of German books which sound funny. We just had to have more stuff offending Germans in the most original way possible, didn’t we, Leguizamo?
Himmel tries to convince Pest that Gustav is lying about the scholarship because he’s a completely unsubtle gay character who’s automatically in lust with Pest, and whose running gag involves him having fallen in love with a snake (named Cocktoe) after Gustav locked him in a room with it for six weeks, which presumably made him gay somehow. I’m cracking up just thinking about it all.
Himmel tries to corner Pest in the room, chasing him around seductively, and of course Leguizamo uses this opportunity to do some more necessary face-making.
For the sake of the plot, Pest rejects the idea that Gustav wants to hunt him instead of challenging him to hunt animals, which follows with this gag,
before he falls down a trap door into another room with Gustav and Leo, where he sees this:
He sees a bunch of other heads as well which finally convinces him that he needs to leave, but we of course have to have another few ethnic jokes before the hunt begins regardless, involving Pest trying to pass himself off as Jewish and French stereotypes before:
He also pisses his pants and farts when Leo catches him. Again, we couldn’t have gotten a more charming comedic main character that makes Ace Ventura look like a limbless autistic child in comparison.
After that classic scene, we cut to the beginning of the hunt, where the guns are handed off. Pest of course only gets a tiny little revolver, pocket knife and piece of rope, but he also gets this outrageously funny outfit to go along with them.
He tries to get out of the situation by aiming the gun at them all, but Leo beats him up. Once it looks like Pest can’t get out again, he resorts to more enjoyable pokes at people with disabilities and disorders to convince them he’s an invalid. These include the “public school gypsy curse,” “stuttering dyslexia” and “narcolepsy.” I can hardly contain myself right now, my fingers are having a hard time finding the keys. It’s like I have Parkinson’s, hehe.
But anyway, Gustav gets fed up and tries to shoot Pest, causing him to run off into the forest.
What ensues is a hilarious (I can’t use this word enough in this review) scene involving Pest fighting and playing harp with a snake,
and rehearsing Shakespearian prose, “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” while farting and pooping in front of a deer which runs when it hears a most hilarious plop. “I can’t poop when I’m being watcheded,” he tells the deer. (Pest loves adding an extra -ed to past tense words, Leguizamo showing off his clever wordplay humor.)
Gustav and Himmel, following Himmel berating his father about the snake incident, accidentally fire a missile in Pest’s direction, which he dodges even though it clearly hits him square in the face.
Later, Pest manages to reach Himmel back at the island house and Himmel threatens him with feline sex pheromones. I don’t really understand why this is supposed to be hilarious, but it just is. I’m completely unable to contain myself now.
After convincing Himmel that he’ll gladly go gay for him if he helps out, the two escape on Gustav’s boat, where we bear witness to a classic seasickness barf gag.
This is followed by a quick and unique poop joke involving seagulls,
during which Pest jumps out of the boat to escape Himmel’s homosexual desire. He swims from here,
to the coast by nightfall.
And where does he find himself? Why he finds himself right at Chubby’s pool party, of course:
His friends ask what happened, and Pest has a brief freak out, saying “the room is spinning” while these visuals play out:
Then he talks faster in Spanglish than he has in the entire film, acting as though he’s on every stimulant known to man, and what more could we ask for?
Oh yeah, more manic mugging!
He winds up in the pool with a couple of beautiful chicks, but even the babes can’t keep him from resisting the urge to mug.
Pest isn’t safe for long, though, because Gustav and Leo somehow manage to find him right there.
The three buddies drive away from the scene in Ninja’s Jeep, when Pest remembers he has to meet Xantha’s parents that night, when franky I totally forgot Xantha existed. Even Pest seemed to forget he had a girlfriend.
Thankfully, he knows how to make a good impression on her African American family and win their hearts.
Not only that, but after removing the afro wig, he makes out with Xantha right in front of them. Just winning everybody over with that magnetic charm, aren’t we?
The dad there is played by none other than Joe Morton, who was SkyNet’s inventor in that shitty James Cameron action schlock film Terminator 2. Again, it’s good to see somebody’s career has been given a boost since the early days.
Following this intro to dinner, we learn that Gustav and Leo planted a tracking device in Pest’s underwear and know exactly where he is as a result. So that would explain them finding him once he reached shore. And it’s amusingly animated as well!
They track him to Xantha’s parents’ house, where he wastes no time in making more hi-lar-ious ethnic jokes against his girlfriend’s race.
Unfortunately, Xantha’s parents bring out Cuban food, to which he gets offended. “Why Cuban?” Then he gets angry and makes a scene, where we get what else? More much-needed mugging! He even calls Xantha’s mother a “bee-i-itch!” Way to go with further impressing the woman you love and getting her parents to love you, man. Way to go.
The tracking device begins to overheat for no reason here, even though it probably shouldn’t have been working when he swam for five hours in the ocean. But how else would we get more mugging in? It’s been at least ten seconds.
Next thing we know he’s naked, dunking his balls in the toilet for some literal toilet humor. This film just continues to press the limits.
Meanwhile, Ninja and Chubby discuss alien sex temptations while Gustav, Leo and Himmel plan to use tranquilizers to catch Pest once and for all.
The Pest gets back with Xantha’s family in a bathrobe as Gustav hides and gets ready to shoot at him in the house. Pest makes more ethnic jokes revolving around his Indian ancestors having sex with his black ancestors and Jews, before Xantha’s mom gets hit with a dart when she steps in the way. Hilarity!
Then Xantha gets shot on accident. More hilarity! Joe Morton comes down and gets upset, and rather than express a modicum of concern that his girlfriend and her mother have passed out, Pest cracks another ethnic joke and then Joe gets hit.
Then, wouldn’t ya know it? Ninja gets hit while acting like a ninja,
and Himmel gets hit as he enters.
Gustav then aims for Pest, but finds he’s out of darts. Pest has a chance to escape and takes it, leaving in the Jeep with Chubby. Gustav and Leo proceed to drive after them and Gustav calls the Scottish mob, imitating a German imitating a Scotsman. He informs them of Pest’s offensiveness toward the Scottish, which gets them on the hunt for him too.
And just when we thought the Jewish jokes would remain sparse, we get this when Pest and Chubs take shelter in a synagogue:
It’s funny because Pest throws around words like “meshuggenah” and “facacta” at the podium without any real context behind them. Oh, and Chubby is black so he must be an Ethiopian Jew. This is so on par with Monty Python.
Of course, a Scotsman in the congregation spots him and puts the rest of the Scottish mob on Pest’s tail.
In the next scene, Pest and Chubby are back in the Jeep outside a club, and they come across two white guys who are plainly unfunny. One makes the lame joke, “Dude, parties are never mad. They’re angry, duh, hehe!” This doesn’t amuse Pest and Chubby, and so they have a music battle between rock and electro, and electro wins, knocking the white boys out after the subwoofers get a bit out of hand.
Pest and Chubby go into the club and spot a Scotsman in there, which makes Pest call Xantha’s house to check up on them. Ninja answers the phone and seems alright, as Xantha and her parents wake up. Pest tells him where he is.
Shortly after, Gustav and the Gang arrive to the club and look around for Pest, which gives Pest the idea for his next stereotype costume.
And glorious it is.
And what does he do to enhance this disguise? Karaoke, what else!
His Japanese accent and occasional bow are impeccable as well.
When Gustav recognizes him, Pest utilizes that cat pheromone and splashes it all over Gustav. This results in all of the guys in the room jumping him.
Pest grabs Ninja and they leave with Chubby in the Jeep once again, or try to, when the Scottish mob gets a hold of ’em and throws them into the back of a limo.
Charles Hallahan demands Pest to do an impression of Scotty from Star Trek, of course, and then demands their money. Because Pest doesn’t have it, he’s forced to leave a friend behind as leverage until he has the money. He chooses Ninja without much hesitation.
Pest plans to get the money in time to free him, but Gustav calls him and reveals that he’s kidnapped Pest’s and Xantha’s families on a ship.
Pest goes to get them on the boat (a frigate, apparently, given Chubs and Pest find cases full of guns on it) where they’re being held, and we get a great scene where Pest taunts Gustav in a little cat-and-mouse sequence by shouting in his signature laser-speed voice.
He does a Beavis impression, “I need teepee for my bungholio,” staying timeless, and an adorable impression of a walkie talkie when there is one that he’s left behind to get Gustav off his trail.
One of my favorite jokes that Pest throws in this sequence? “What do you get when you smoke a big cigar? A fat butt!” Ingenious.
Next, we get to enjoy a scene where Pest follows right behind Gustav and mimics his movements to stay hidden. It don’t get no better than that.
After a little while a guy, apparently Pest, comes out in a heavy suit, freeing his girlfriend with Gustav’s permission.
But it turns out this is Chubby. Gasp!
It would appear Pest has the upper hand,
but then Gustav reveals that the drink he had before the hunt began contained poison which would kill him in exactly 18 hours, and his time is almost up. In fact, Gustav counts down his last 15 seconds because it’s so precise.
At this point, I’m not entirely sure why he even bothered to go hunting after Pest if he was just going to die anyway, but why question the writing when I can’t stop laughing at Leguizamo?
In light of this news about his death, Pest dances to some lively ’90s comedy music to show off how not-poisoned he believes is.
Then he appears to be experiencing the effects of the poison, whose final effects include, of all things, mugging, I guess.
Pest falls down, Himmel is playfully shot by his father in his bulletproof vest, and it looks like our villain has won as he visits the bank.
But wait! Gustav’s safe deposit box is empty, with the exception of a note! My God! The Pest is invincible!
Gustav gets a call, during which Pest explains that he puked up the poison during the puke gag with Himmel, and that the German ambassador caught on to Gustav’s little hunting hobby. Sure enough, the cops bust in and arrest him.
We’re still missing one impression from Leguizamo that we need to see. What is it? Oh yeah, the German ambassador. Here we go.
Confronted with a restrained Gustav, Pest puts on an indeterminable accent and claims that if he weren’t the ambassador, then he couldn’t do anything the Three Stooges would want to do to him, including slapping him, pulling him up by the nostrils, giving him a wedgie and even licking his face.
Finally, Ninja is freed as the beat we missed so much plays again for us,
and Pest, Chubby, Ninja, Xantha and Malaria (of all people) climb into the Jeep and drive off together toward the end of this magnificent flick. They also throw money out the back for the camera man. That’s nice of them.
For the closing credits? We get to hear that flawless opening sequence again, with only slight variations that borderline outtakes. What a great ending to an excellent comedy that doesn’t pull any punches, in any fashion.
I mean why did guys like Robin Williams and Bill Murray become such successes when it’s quite clear that John Leguizamo is the king of improvisational comedy? The world may never know, and it’s sad that this movie is pushed back as something much less than it should be.
I do know that Richard Connell would most definitely appreciate this amazing adaptation of his beloved short story. This film took what I found abysmal to read in high school and carved it into an absolutely ageless gem of a film.
This film inevitably gets 5/5 possible stars from me, without a doubt. John Leguizamo, David Bar Katz and Paul Miller should team up whenever possible, the perfect comedic trio, and I’m thinking I’ll send them a letter requesting a sequel that must happen.
If you want to purchase this amazingly amazing comedic masterpiece, buy The Pest at Amazon. If you don’t want a new one for $39.95 for some reason, you can buy them used starting from the insulting price of $4.99.