`Carpool': Kill The Engine, Quick

Movie review

X "Carpool," with Tom Arnold, David Paymer. Directed by Arthur Hiller, from a script by Don Rhymer. Alderwood, Aurora, Bella Bottega 7, Gateway, Kent 6, Lewis & Clark, Metro, Newmark, Snohomish, Totem Lake. "PG" - Parental guidance advised because of crude humor, mild language and comic action.

"This isn't funny!" proclaims David Paymer about two-thirds of the way through this purported comedy.

Yes, but what took him so long? And how did the director, Arthur Hiller, allow that line to turn up in a movie that tries so frantically to amuse? Is this just a sign of directorial sloppiness or forgetfulness? (It wouldn't be the first.) Or is it an unconscious acknowledgment of the truth?

Essentially one long car chase set in Seattle but filmed in Vancouver - with those oh-so-recognizable B.C. mountains popping up in the background as the characters discuss the Seahawks and the Mariners - "Carpool" tries to jerk laughs out of a robbery-and-hostage situation involving a car full of children. Paymer plays a cranky workaholic advertising executive whose carpooling van is hijacked by a nearly bankrupt carnival owner (Tom Arnold) who likes to tell toilet jokes.

The screenwriter, Don Rhymer, is a television veteran ("Coach," "The Hogan Family") who apparently never encountered one he didn't like. An extended discussion of flatulence is topped only by a bathroom scene in which Arnold tries to urinate while holding hands

with Paymer (naturally the punchline involves a gay hairdresser who tries to join them).

All this togetherness somehow makes Paymer's character see the light and want to spend more time with his kids. It's that kind of "family movie," stuffed with calculated heartwarmers that are apparently intended to make up for the more distasteful or repetitious scenes. If Rhymer and Hiller think it's funny to have, say, one scene of this carload of kids singing The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated," they can't resist giving you two more.

Paymer is too good for this movie. Rhea Perlman and Kim Coates can't rise above their one-joke roles as, respectively, a fascist meter maid and a desperate Seattle policeman. Rod Steiger is wasting his time as the client Paymer most wants to impress.

Tom Arnold, on the other hand, well . . . watching a Tom Arnold movie is like getting trapped in a room with a barking dog for 90 minutes. Yes, he's effective at playing oafish boors, but doesn't even he get tired of the routine?