We’ve all had horrific restaurant experiences , so it’s easy to identify with this series of three film shorts centering around one particularly terrible waiter and the poor service he delivers. Starring Michael McCallum–also the writer and director of these 15-minute vignettes–the first film introduces us to the "waiter from Hell" as he ruins one couples’ romantic evening out on the town. The Boyfriend has taken his girlfriend to a nice restaurant where it appears he is prepared to pop the question. But from the outset, the waiter takes what should be a lovely evening of fine dining and turns it on its ear. He starts by delivering the wrong wine. It doesn’t help that his particularly slow service is winning him no favors with any of the diners who begin to loudly lament their dining decision. The waiter wipes a spoon off on his pants, delivers poor quality food (Saltines covered in gravy), and is never apologetic for the mistakes. The very patient boyfriend ends up refusing to pay the bill, which angers his girlfriend, so instead of a lovely and romantic evening out, the two end up not speaking as the stomp towards the restaurant exit.
Film number two revolves around the waiter ignoring and abusing his assigned trainee, subjecting him to publicly humiliating exercises in table-waiting all while coming on to the hot new female trainee in such a way that he should be fired for sexual harassment. The waiter rudely ignores patrons’ orders while blaming it on his trainee, sending his trainee out on his own way too early just so he can try to win the favors of the new attractive waitress. All of this plays out hilariously as McCallum sets up his trainee to take each and every fall and to deal with the angry patrons. In one of my favorite scenes, the waiter tries to entice a pretty girl into having an alcoholic beverage when all she wants is water. As he continues to harass her, what he doesn’t see is the girl’s very large boyfriend who has returned from the bathroom and is standing behind him, a silent witness to the entire sequence of events.
The final installment sees a progression in roles as the trainee has now become the manager and the "waiter from Hell" is still in the same old position. Meanwhile, the female trainee has become successful as well. While that certainly gets under the skin of McCallum’s character, he just can’t help himself and still tries to come on to her as well as any other pretty female customers he may see. The trainee-turned-manager can’t take it any longer. He has dealt with complaints and the fallout from numerous encounters too many times and now the waiter is driving customers away. With permission from the owner, he fires the waiter right in the midst of the customers, who applaud the decision. As the waiter turns to go, he runs right into the waitress who has endured his harassment much too long and gets an entire tray of food summarily dumped onto his head. Is this final act an ironic accident or the waiter’s comeuppance? While we never really know, it certainly is a satisfying payoff.
A.E. Griffin, McCallum’s longtime partner and a fine cinematographer, lensed the first of this three-part series while Brendan Fisher took over the DP reins on the last two parts, proving he is quite capable as well. This series of short films offer both a painful and funny take on something we have all experienced: terrible restaurant service. While we can laugh at these unfortunate characters, it is because we identify with them and what they are going through that allows us to feel sympathy towards their plight even as we laugh at the absurdity of each situation. Good comedy makes us laugh, but sometimes it also makes us a little uncomfortable because we have also experienced what these characters are experiencing, so while we are laughing at the film, we are also, perhaps, laughing at ourselves because we’ve all been there, too. It’s almost a masochistic tendency in all of us that makes us stay through to the end of a particularly bad experience at a restaurant. Part of us wants to get up, say something particularly witty and embarrassing to the waiter or waitress, and walk out; but the other part of us sits in disbelief, curious to see just how far this can go and just how bad the service will be. This is what makes "Waiter from Hell" so funny–we watch to see just how far this idiot can take events until someone explodes.
I continue to remain impressed by McCallum’s acting chops. The range he has exhibited over the years is absolutely terrific. From his dramatic turn in Fairview St. (which remains my absolute favorite of his films and should be in the top ten independent dramas over the last decade) to his comedic roles in films such as Handlebar and Waiter from Hell, to the romantic dramedy of Lucky, McCallum continues to prove he is a force to be reckoned with not only behind the camera, but in front of it, too.
If you are interested in seeing the "Waiter from Hell" series, or indeed any of McCallum’s films, go to http://www.rebelpictures.net/films.html and you can purchase this terrific DVD for only $10. You won’t be disappointed!