By Dave Barry
Putnam, $26.95, 352 pages
Dave Barry’s comic novels read like screenplays. His books thus take very little adaptation to bring them to the local cineplex. Mr. Barry’s first novel, “Big Trouble,” came out in 1999 and was turned into a theater-ready, star-studded spectacle by 2001. (The release was delayed due to the movie’s suddenly controversial plot, involving a plane hijacking and a nuclear bomb, by the Sept. 11 terror attacks.) “Lunatics,” his 2012 writers’ duel with novelist Alan Zweibel, was picked up by Universal Pictures and is waiting for high-demand leading man Steve Carell to free up enough time in his schedule to shoot it.
It is therefore not premature to speculate on what most movie critics will have to say when the adaptation of his latest novel, “Insane City,” gets the Hollywood treatment. My guess is that if it survives in anything like its current form, they’ll hate it. Critics will spurn this story for roughly the same reason that so many fulminated against that great anti-liberal classic “Forrest Gump”: because the bad guys very much remind them of themselves. (Time magazine summarized general critical disdain for that blockbuster under the dismissive headline “Forrest Gump Is Dumb.”)
Never fear, dear devoted readers, Mr. Barry has not written a deadly dull political novel. In the main, “Insane City” is a madcap wedding comedy: part “Hangover,” part “Bridezillas,” part “Every Which Way But Loose,” with a healthy dose of “Cheech and Chong” thrown in for good measure. You should know going in that the madcap tale exists right alongside a much more serious one.
Our story features Seth Weinstein, an amiable young loser who ekes out a living at a marketing firm by promoting products through anonymous Twitter accounts. He has somehow landed a huge prize in the form of beautiful and successful fiancee Tina Clark. She’s a driven D.C. lawyer, a woman with a long list of progressive causes and, not incidentally, the daughter of Mike Clark, a billionaire who owns not one but two personal helicopters. The story opens with both traveling to Miami to be wed on the Key Biscayne beachfront.
The two are surrounded by a cast of characters, in both senses of the word. These include on the groom’s side Seth’s stereotypical aged Jewish parents and his self-titled “groom posse” — college buddies Marty, Kevin and Big Steve (a role that must have been written with Patrick Warburton in mind). Tina’s family and retinue include stoner sister Meghan, family muscle Brewer and Castronovo, wedding planner to the stars Blaze Gear and officiant Banzan Dazu, a former record producer who became Buddhist to pick up chicks.
The locals Mr. Barry mixes into the story come off as the sane ones. That is saying something considering these include Duane, a tall bald man with an 11-foot Burmese albino python named Blossom on his person, Cyndi, an outgoing Cuban divorcee who placed fourth in the Miss Hot Amateur Bod contest, overweight stripper LaDawne with her refrigerator of a boyfriend-pimp Wesley, and Trevor, a bored and horny orangutan with a fondness for wedding rings. (My favorite chapter opening: “Your male orangutan is not a looker.”)
Set against all of this is the story of Laurette, a Haitian woman, and her struggle to get herself and her young son and baby across the sea and into Miami. Early chapters of the rich Americans’ hijinks alternate with much shorter, perilous chapters with openings such as “Laurette knew now that she and her children were going to die,” and Laurette’s panicked “unthinkable thought” that thankfully goes unacted upon: “I have to drown my children.”
When our amiable loser awakes on a Miami beach after a night of heavy drinking and pot smoking, he sees the capsized dinghy bobbing in the surf with a child clinging to it. Seth does the decent but dangerous thing and dives in. The message of the intertwined story once he pulls them ashore is subtle — well, what at Mr. Barry’s breakneck storytelling pace passes for subtle, anyway — but it’s there. When First World problems collide with much more life-threatening Third World problems, there are plenty of laughs to be had, yet there are judgments as well.
Jeremy Lott is editor of Real Clear Books.