Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, and produced by Cassian Elwes (brother of Cary Elwes), 1990's Men at Work is by no means fine cinema or high culture. Silly, mostly dumb, but with a disarming charm, the film is the type of low budget comedy that once filled theatres before vulgarity became the comedy writer's only currency. It is the tale of two lackadaisical California garbagemen, played by the brothers Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez, who long to open a surf shop but become inadvertently entangled in a corrupt toxic waste dumping scheme.
As the chaperon and former Vietnam veteran brought in to babysit James and Carl, Keith David steals the film. When the three of them find the corpse of a local politician on their garbage route, David's character exclaims, "Looks like somebody threw away a perfectly good white boy!" The film is notable, also, for being one of the first of the actress Leslie Hope, then 25 years old. Eleven years later, she would play the wife of Jack Bauer in the first season of "24" with Kiefer Sutherland (who starred with Sheen and Estevez in 1988's Young Guns.). Hope plays Susan Wilkins, aide to the deceased politician who is at first suspected in his death. Through their misadventures, Susan becomes the love interest for Carl, who talks his way into her apartment to investigate the death by posing as a neighbor and phrenologist.
Famed New York Times film critic Vincent Canby wrote only three paragraphs for his review:
'Men at Work,'' which opened here yesterday, is a good-natured lowbrow farce about two southern California garbage men who dream of opening their own surf shop. It's also about toxic waste, political corruption, a dead body with its face hidden behind a Nixon mask and two dumb cops.Canby did not take note of the best thing about the film: David's sermon on the nature of French fries. Sitting in a local diner, James reaches across the table and grabs and handful of fries from Louis's plate. In one swift movement, Louis grabs James's hand and refuses to release it. He offers his wisdom on the sanctity of French fries. Only then does he release it.
The movie was written and directed by Emilio Estevez, who also stars in the film with his brother, Charlie Sheen. They play the garbage men who find the body, which is that of a white city councilman. A black garbage man who also witnesses the discovery says: ''Oh, look. Someone's thrown out a perfectly good white boy.'' That's pretty much the level of the humor, which also features some practical jokes in the garbage company's locker room, a couple of automobile chases and a final free-for-all at a landfill.The movie's desire to please is tireless, also engaging. Mr. Estevez's screenplay is not entirely coherent, but it has a number of comically crackpot lines. It is played with spirit by the two real-life brothers and by the principal members of the supporting cast: Keith David, as their partner; Leslie Hope, as the pretty young woman who falls in love with Mr. Sheen, and John Getz. Mr. Getz is genuinely good as a corrupt businessman who does the best slow burns since dear old Edgar Kennedy.
Truer words were never spoken.