You gotta love Ralph Bellamy. In addition to having a reputation as an all-around nice guy and consummate professional, he ended his career on an odd, fascinating note. First, he was the guy who never got the girl in the 1930s. Then, in 1958, he became the quintessential interpreter of FDR on stage and screen. Finally, he ended up one of the few studio-system, Hollywood character actors a teenage Black kid in the ’hood could immediately identify. He showed up in a memorable role as one of the Duke brothers in Trading Places, a role he reprised in Coming to America, and between those two films he appeared in Michael Schultz’s live-action cartoon, Disorderlies. It’s here that Bellamy not only bronzed his ghetto pass but proved that he’s game for working with just about anybody. Disorderlies has both a novelty rap act AND Luke (Anthony Geary) from General Hospital. How can a connoisseur of trash not love this man?
There’s a soft spot in my heart for Disorderlies. I’m not even going to try to defend it as a good movie of any type. I’m representing it here because I have a good time watching it whenever it’s on TV. It’s flat-out silly and unapologetically so. Playing like Looney Tunes crossed with The Three Stooges, and complete with Treg Brown-like sound effects, Disorderlies stars the Hungry Hungry Hippos of old school rap, The Fat Boys. Fresh off Krush Groove (also directed by Schultz), the Human Beat Box and his cronies, Prince Markie Dee and Kool Rock-Ski, engage in Three Stooges-style slapstick. The trio slap each other repeatedly, fall over anything nailed down, and fling poor Ralph Bellamy in the air AND across a roller disco floor. They are also depicted eating about 20 Domino’s pizzas and exactly 15 chocolate cakes at once. This would be offensive to the big-boned, except that overeating (and rapping about it) is the Fat Boys’ shtick: Fans are expecting this type of comical gluttony. And hell, who doesn’t like chocolate cake?
Disorderlies was released at the height of the eighties-movie infatuation with hip-hop and R&B. Films like Beat Street, Breakin’, the Breakin’ sequel Electric Boogaloo, Wild Style, and the aforementioned Krush Groove served as Reagan-era throwbacks to both the great MGM musicals and the AIP-produced Beach Party films of the 1960s. Disorderlies makes no attempt to cater to the adults in the audience, opting instead for the sweet spot of urban youth looking for an escape from reality for a few hours. The Fat Boys were known for their comic tales of mischief, and Michael Schultz is content to let them act a fool.
The plot is so old that dust should fly from the screen during the opening credits. Bellamy plays a dying, rich old man named Albert Dennison. Dennison’s conniving nephew Winslow (Anthony Geary) eagerly awaits Albert’s demise for the obvious reason. Yet patience is not one of Winslow’s virtues; despite Albert’s decrepit condition, it’s taking the old geezer way too long to die. Plus, Winslow is in serious debt to Mr. Montana (Marco Rodriguez), whose Scarface-inspired name tells you every stereotypical thing you need to know about his character. Winslow is dumb enough to attempt to kill Albert himself, but after seeing the incompetence of the Fat Boys at their soon-to-be-terminated current orderlies job, Winslow hatches a less self-incriminating scheme: He’ll hire the guys to take care of Albert. Their incompetence will accidentally kill the old man. As our heroes go to three very large electric chairs, Winslow and his wallet will breakdance like Turbo and Ozone down Easy Street.
The Fat Boys—Markie (Mark “Prince Markie Dee” Morales), Buffy (Darren “Human Beat Box” Robinson), and Kool (Damon “Kook Rock Ski” Wimbley)—may be totally inept, but they’re not killers. After some close calls with Albert’s medicine and some comically suspect medical equipment, something completely expected happens: Albert starts to get better, not worse. The youthful energy of his caretakers invigorates him. Sure, Albert gets thrown around like a rag doll, but that keeps his heart beating more actively than laying around in a bed. As Albert becomes as spry and happy as those old people in Cocoon (whose casting director somehow missed Bellamy), Winslow becomes more panicked, more conniving, and more murderous.
You can tick off the events in Disorderlies before the Warner Bros. logo appears onscreen. The real surprise, and the film’s true joy, is the chemistry Bellamy has with his oversized co-stars. Never once does it feel as if Bellamy is here for the money, or out of desperation. This is not some kind of intergenerational lecture or an episode of Diff’rent Strokes (rich White man helps fatherless Black charges).Albert seems genuinely happy to be in the company of Mark, Buffy and Kool, and they are happy to have him regardless of age or race. The Fat Boys and the Quintessential Second Fiddle unite against a common enemy—soap opera actors!—and vanquish their foe with gleeful abandon and a bullet in the ass.
Screenwriters Mark Feldberg and Mitchell Klebanoff even find time for romance, though poor Mr. Bellamy is yet again left out in the cold. Markie Dee, the Fat Boys’ resident lover man, pitches PG-rated woo to Troy Beyer, a girl who in real life might be considered well out of his league. That Markie’s size plays no deciding factor in this is probably not enough for the politically correct to forgive the numerous instances of gluttony and buffoonery, but screw political correctness. These guys like to eat, even if, as my favorite Fat Boys song tells us, it causes them to end up “in jail, without the bail.”
Disorderlies provides something for everyone trapped in the amber of eighties nostalgia. General Hospital fans can boo and hiss at their favorite son, fans of cheesiness should bring crackers, and fans of old-school rap (and even older-school actors) can enjoy the camaraderie while nodding their heads to the soundtrack. To hoodrats my age, The Fat Boys were more than a novelty act. They were part of rap history whose crossover appeal led to some very strange bedfellows. They worked with Chubby Checker and The Beach Boys, and they end Disorderlies with a hip-hop remake of Lennon and McCartney’s “Baby You’re A Rich Man.” Any movie that ends with rappers singing a Beatles song, regardless of how much die-hard Beatles fans may cringe, is well worth the investment of your time.