Review: For a Comedy Troupe’s Latest, Period Piece Quasi is Too Broadly Written for Real Laughs

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but the comedy troupe known as Broken Lizard (Super Troopers, Club Dread, Beer Fest) doesn’t really care that much about being accurate to Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame in their new sort-of adaptation, Quasi (short for Quasimodo). As with many of their films, the objective is to be silly, which is not always the same thing as being funny. If I’m not mistaken, this is the team’s first period piece, which is essentially just an excuse to play dress up (with all five members playing at least two characters), speak with funny accents (not always French), and act out a thread-bare plot about a king and the Pope wanting to kill the lovable hunchback.

This version of Quasimodo (Steve Lemme) begins the film as an assassin for hire, who both King Guy (Jay Chandrasekhar) and Pope Cornelius (Paul Soter) attempt to recruit to kill the other leader in advance of a summit the two are meant to attend to work out the differences between the monarchy and the church. With the help of his best friend Duchamp (Kevin Heffernan, who also directs the film), Quasi gets out of having to kill anyone. But he soon becomes the target when the jilted leaders feel the need to cover up their respective plots. Quasi receives unexpected help from the soon-to-be-anointed Queen Catherine (Adrianne Palicki), who not only takes pity on his predicament but also begins to fall in love with the misshapen but quite charming man. Rounding out the Lizard cast is Erik Stolhanske as the Pope’s right-hand, Cardinal Claude, with the five troupe members acting as co-writers.

If you find funny the occasional over-pronounced French word or hearing Brian Cox act as the film’s bookend narrator, you’ll probably chuckle a few times at Quasi. There are repeated jokes about torture, and in fact, there are quite a few torture scenes, mostly involving a stretching rack, as well as one that involves nailing a certain body part to a block of wood. Admittedly, as a visual gag, it’s pretty funny, but the rest of the torture sequences don’t really amount to much beyond screaming. And in a film in which most of the dialogue is screamed, a little goes a long way. There are also attempted messages about friendship and not judging the proverbial book by its cover, but having morals to their stories isn’t exactly the Broken Lizard’s strength.

The troupe’s primary goal is laughter, so having dodgy production design or minimal character development doesn’t really factor into their priorities, and that’s fine as long as the laughs keep coming—which they don’t. That being said, I was genuinely drawn in by Lemme’s portrayal of Quasi and loved his shifting relationship with Catherine, which is sweet and harmlessly sexy. While some of the performances do garner the occasional laugh, most of this is just broadly written and performed, resulting in a fairly uninspired retelling. Sometimes the Broken Lizard gang hits me squarely in the funny bone, but Quasi was a series of near misses.

The film is now streaming on Hulu.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.