Kenny Smyth (Shane Jacobson) is the Dalai Lama of Waste Management. In Australia he’s the guy you call when you need port-a-potties for everything from the racecourse where the Melbourne Cup is run all the way down to fairgrounds and church socials. He’s also the funniest character to emerge from Australian film since Crocodile Dundee.
Shot in a pseudo documentary style Kenny details the work-a-day existence of a loveable lug who never met a septic tank he couldn’t conquer.
“It takes a certain kind of person to do what I do,” he says. “No one is ever impressed; no-one’s ever fascinated. If you’re a fireman, all the kids will want to jump on the back of the truck and follow you to a fire. There’s going to be no kids willing to do that with me. So, I don’t do it to impress people; it’s a job, it’s my trade, and I actually think I’m pretty good at it.”
Originally conceived and shot as a short film Kenny was expanded to full length when Splashdown (‘We’re number one with your number two’s”), a major portable bathroom rental outfit chimed in with the cash for a feature budget. Mostly improvised Kenny takes what could have been a one-joke premise and stretches it to 100 minutes by going beyond the bathroom jokes. Don’t get me wrong, there is enough scatological humor here to make Urinetown seem like The Sound of Music, but there is also much more.
The film’s main asset is Jacobson as the chubby, wisecracking plumber. He’s in virtually every scene, spouting Aussie vernacular and colloquialisms, as he takes us through the nitty gritty of temporary sanitation solutions. He brings an unexpected warmth and self-depreciating sense of humor to the character and the film that is infectious. He’s very funny, with razor sharp timing and an offhand way with a line, but it’s his personal journey that makes him interesting.
When he’s not retrieving rings dropped down toilet bowls or attending the “Pumper and Cleaner” convention in Nashville he deals with real-life issues like a tense father-and-son relationship, a dysfunctional brother and a budding romance. These sidebars elevate the movie from a one-joke wonder to a story with real human interest. Plumbers aren’t often the heroes in movies, but Jacobson’s portrayal of Kenny and his life is a crowd pleaser.
Kenny is a barefaced ‘feel good’ comedy that works as well as any of Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries.