We may wish for inspired results when the finest comedic minds of a generation come together under the umbrella of one project, but it was not to be for Yellowbeard. It is rare to see so many entertainers collaborate on something worthwhile and culturally embedded, and a film about the eponymous pirate, played by Graham Chapman, was never going to set the world on fire. It suffers from the overnumbered cast, who each bring a different styling of comedy to the table. That blend is bad enough, for it makes good comedians look bad. Yellowbeard takes the likes of Eric Idle, John Cleese, Cheech Marin and Marty Feldman, and turns them from torch-bearing heroes of the comedy genre to fumbling fools with anguish hidden behind grins and guffaws.
Such a shame, too, for Yellowbeard holds within it so many great lines. Many of them are throwaway gags and never take centre stage. That is the prime issue. Yellowbeard never highlights the truly great comedy. Its narrative rightly takes precedence, but when those moments are weaker and less engaging than the skit-worthy scenes of real comedy, then there is nothing director Mel Damski can do to save us or the performers trapped within. What is the purpose of having David Bowie, Peter Boyle and Spike Milligan on the roster when they can offer little more than the star power their names convey? But that is the name of Damski’s game, for he knows a quality cast will get him over the first of many hurdles. It does not hurt his screenplay, that does enough damage on its own.
Most of it is tiresome and boring. The issue of capturing the great minds of comedy and placing them all into the same arena is that the results are going to be mixed at best. Chapman and Peter Cook bear much of the writing brunt, but without their usual writing pairs, they are lost at sea. Literally, here, where Yellowbeard pursues the treasures of the seven seas. That Pythonesque humour is foreboding, ruminating deep underneath the writing of the film. While it is expected, it is also underwhelming. Where Terry Gilliam managed to avoid those pitfalls and pigeon-holed advances, Chapman does not have the luxury of genre-hopping to somewhere far from his Parrot Sketch days. He will forever be painted with the same brush as those he worked with in his finest days, but it is no fault but his own. He never tries to move Yellowbeard away from the style Monty Python offered.
No longer can we rely on the boundary-pushing generations of comedy gone by, although no amount of star power could salvage the core issues found in Yellowbeard. It is a film that has walked the plank of quality and toppled over into the murky waters below. When your casting of David Bowie is happenstance filmmaking colliding with his holiday, you get the feeling that much of Yellowbeard is done off the cuff and without much planning. Even its action-packed opening feels sudden and not quite planned. Chapman and Boyle are no stuntmen, but their direction here leaves much to be desired. Still, Yellowbeard could be a lot worse. There are moments throughout that give off the joy of sailing through the world and thieving from unexpecting galleons.