Steve Coogan with a guitar crossbow and Rob Brydon in a mullet. Hey, it’s better than Tim Allen with a laser gun and Alan Rickman with a fin on his head: Cruise of the Gods (2002) is basically Galaxy Quest without the exploding alien pig.
Has-been actors of a cheesy sci-fi show called Children of Castor are trapped on a cruise ship with their biggest fans. Andy Van Allen (Brydon) escapes his job as a hotel porter to spend the week on a Children of Castor cruise, where he is their celebrity guest, but he quickly turns the cruise sour by making everyone on board as miserable as he is, most pointedly Russell (James Cordon), the fan club’s treasurer who spends the whole vacation following Andy around and whimpering at his womanizing and rude displays of self-importance. Half hour in, cue the arrival of Nick Lee (Coogan), who’d played second fiddle to Andy in the show but who is now wildly famous in America. (With Coogan playing second fiddle to Brydon in this movie and having just returned from the Oscars for his film Philomena, does any of this sound familiar?) Nick is thrilled with the prospect of jumping aboard the cruise ship to surprise the fans, giving the movie a well-needed lift out of melancholy. After a brief brush with Hollywood and discovering that he has a long-lost son, Andy finally snaps out of his depression and plays along with the fans, ah a happy ending.
Cruise of the Gods is mediocre as a comedy, but it’s excellent as a drama. Andy takes us inside the world of a has-been with gutting speeches. He tells Russell that rabbits have more to celebrate than the fans who are celebrating the arrival of Nick Lee (dubbing the fan club president, played by David Walliams, Thumper). He asks the Castor screenwriter if he’s afraid that no one will remember him, but we realize in that moment that Andy is better suited in the somber realism of the British entertainment industry rather than the faux-optimistic Hollywood environment he strives to assimilate into. The film writers are brutally honest when depicting this lifestyle, not only in the portrayal of Andy, but also the Castor screenwriter who confesses that the characters’ names are all anagrams of curies and not well thought-out etymological constructions, and an extra who, in the film’s tear-jerking moment, confesses to Andy in a video that he’s dying (“I’m changing!”) and throws himself overboard.
If the movie has a weak point, it’s a tone-wrong tangent to Hollywood where Andy briefly joins the cast of Nick Lee’s Sherlock in Miami show. It indicates Nick’s love for his loser of a former co-star, the Hollywood way, and Andy’s desperation to join it, but it’s so wrong for this film. Despite that, who doesn’t want to see Sherlock, played by Coogan, running on a beach and shooting up bad guys, telling his Floridian Watson, “Elementary, my dear bro”?
In the last 10 minutes of the movie, Russell reveals his big secret (and not just why he’s been carrying around an arm in a box the whole film), and it bizarrely becomes the magic antidote for all of Andy’s despair, even though we had no inkling that Andy was interested in ever having a child or that he would be father material. Despite the contrived writing, the climax is surprisingly uplifting. Nick Lee preposterously reappears on the boat without anyone noticing, called in on short notice from Hollywood to role-play with the fans. He explains to Andy that everyone knows he’s a hotel porter and no one minds, so stop sulking already.
Also, watch out for Russell Brand as an extra. He’s got about two lines.