‘The Gutter’ review: The right kind of stupid from Mashable

There are movies that are bad stupid in that they make you feel dissatisfied and even furious because their pieces don’t add up to a satisfying whole (ahem). Then there are good stupid movies, like Dumb and Dumber, Cabin Boy, The Big Lebowski, and now The Gutter, a sports comedy that’s ostensibly about bowling but is actually about the glory of doing dumb stuff with friends.

Fittingly, this bonkers buddy comedy was made by two brothers, who upon the movie’s SXSW premiere, declared they’ve been best friends since birth. Directed by Isaiah Lester and Yassir Lester (and written by the latter), The Gutter boasts a jaw-dropping cast that includes Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse‘s Shameik Moore, The Good Place‘s D’Arcy Carden, Happy Endings‘ Adam Pally, Living Single‘s Kim Fields, 227‘s Jackée Harry, The League‘s Paul Scheer, Mad About You’s Paul Reiser, and Susan Sarandon. And every single member of this ensemble goes for the joke, no matter how dumb or potentially offensive. The Lester brothers don’t lead them wrong, making for a sports comedy as striking as it is absolutely hysterical. 

What’s The Gutter about? 

Moore stars as Walt, a young Black man who hates wearing shirts, loves yellow gold chains, and has been spectacularly fired from a string of dead-end jobs for some truly bone-headed reasons. (“Found tasting spoons inefficient.”) Washing up at AlleyCatz, a bowling alley that is sketchy even by bowling alley standards, he is three-time loser looking for any job he can get. Lucky for him, this is a place for misfits. 

Open-hearted owner Mozell (Harry) doesn’t get a lot of actual bowlers, but regularly welcomes street preacher Brotha Candy (Killing It‘s Rell Battle), a washed up bowling pro/dedicated drunk called Skunk (Carden), and an unidentified critter that raids her kitchen while making an ungodly racket. But when a sickly health inspector (Adam Brody) puts the place under threat of being closed (by every government agency including the ATF), it’s up to these losers to save the day, or at least the bowling alley through extensive renovations.

Turns out Walt is a natural at rolling strikes. So, as his self-proclaimed coach/newly minted bestie, Skunk guides him into the competitive bowling tournament tour, where big wins could raise the funds needed to keep AlleyCatz afloat. Walt quickly makes a name for himself not only through his victories but also his unusual form, wild costumes, and an outrageous “stage name.” But Walt and Skunk, face serious competition when a living legend of pin-smashing comes out of retirement. Enter Susan Sarandon as the surly and salacious Linda “The Crusher” Curson, who chain-smokes in between sexually harassing her male assistant and brutally berating any rival on site.

Can a band of losers defeat The Crusher at her own game? 

Shameik Moore and D’Arcy Carden are a top-notch comedy team. 

From the moment Walt and Skunk inexplicably stumble onto a perfectly in-sync secret handshake, Moore and Carden are a dynamic duo. The awe-shucks energy he brought to Miles Morales is gone, replaced by a wild-eyed bombast, bolstered by physical comedy that is fearlessly goofy. Walt pitches himself full-bodied into ludicrous poses to throw the ball down the lane or trains by practicing his precarious balance on its slippery surface. But Moore might be at his funniest when he alternately mugs or shrieks lines of mock outrage. I marvel this movie got made because I can’t imagine how anyone onscreen with Moore could keep a straight face to his unbridled comedic mayhem. And yet, Carden not only doesn’t break, she proves his pitch-perfect partner. 

From the moment Walt and Skunk inexplicably stumble onto a perfectly in-sync secret handshake, Moore and Carden are a dynamic duo.

With an improvisational background, a sharply shaggy delivery, and a loose-limbed approach to the surly Skunk, Carden is laugh-out-loud funny. “I know what you’re thinking,” she says with a shrug, “Skunk’s a man’s name.” Without missing a beat, Moore notes it’s an animal’s name. And when Carden fires back a perplexed, “What animal?!” I was lost to my laughter. This was the first act, and I was already laughing so loud I was missing lines of dialogue. The audience at the movie’s World Premiere at SXSW was similarly in stitches, all the more impressive considering this bonkers comedy played at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday — not a late-night spot where audience goodwill might be better fueled by tacos and booze.

Together, Moore and Carden exude the “yes and” guidance of improv comedy, building on each other’s energy and turning every wild swing of a punchline into a gut punch of a belly laugh. This dynamic reflects Walt and Skunk’s, being two weirdos with big dumb dreams who can lean on each other when things get tough. Through wins and losses, they have each other. And as outlandish or outright stupid as this movie gets, The Gutter is undeniably heart-warming at its core. 

The Gutter makes inappropriate jokes its playground. 

While plenty of gags are more silly than shocking, the Lester brothers scored roars of laughter with riskier punchlines. Notably, they’re not punching down. The joke is usually at the expense of the ignorant dope saying something profoundly outrageous, like when a Southern-fried bully describes therapy as “Jewish voodoo” or when Reiser as obnoxious sportcaster declares BLM stands for “Bowl Lives Matter,” because he “said it first.” 

There’s a pleasure in the Lesters inviting us to laugh in the face of such ignorance. But they have a crisp awareness that who tells a joke impacts how it lands. For instance, Walt’s chosen stage name includes the N-word, setting up an expectation about who can call him that and who better not. It’s a recurring bit that is tweaked just enough to keep it from getting stale but also to keep the audience from relaxing into it. 

I can’t remember the last time a comedy this stupid was so smart in its jokes. The Gutter is the kind of comedy that scares the hell out of distributors because it doesn’t play it safe. Sure, not every joke lands and some do spark gasps alongside giggles. But the Lesters have strategically stuffed so many goofy gags and such cleverly cast comedic performers, that from the first frame to the last The Gutter is a winner. 

The Gutter was reviewed out of SXSW 2024. 

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