Scriptwriting guru Syd Field is said to have honed the three-act structure down to a few simple sentences: “Get your protagonist up a tree. Throw rocks at him. Then get him down.” In Lunatics, authors Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel impose their distinctive mutation onto that formula. They get their protagonists up a tree. They throw rocks at them. Then they fire automatic weapons at them. Then they lob hand grenades in their direction. Then they chop the tree down, feed it through a wood chipper and pursue their protagonists with flame throwers and a colony of rabid vampire bats . . . you get the idea.
One would expect no less from a duo that styles itself as the “League of Comic Justice.” Dave Barry is a Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist who (along with the likes of Stephen King, Amy Tan and Scott Turow) is a member of the celebrated all-author band The Rock Bottom Remainders. Alan Zweibel is an Emmy- and Thurber Prize-winning author who spent a half-decade writing for “Saturday Night Live” during what is considered the show’s golden era. Putting one in close proximity to the other is sort of like juggling torches while walking a wire over a vat of kerosene; sooner or later, there’s gonna be a big, big bang.
Lunatics starts off innocently enough. Mild-mannered pet shop owner Philip Horkman, refereeing a youth soccer match, calls back a game-tying goal, claiming the forward was offside. Her father, a highly belligerent (and aptly named) forensic plumber named Jeffrey Peckerman, begs to differ, at some volume. One might presume that the match’s conclusion would be the end of the matter, but oh, no. When Peckerman mistakenly shows up at Horkman’s pet shop and absconds with the owner’s favorite lemur, who soon thereafter slips his cage and pilfers the plumber’s drunken houseguest’s insulin pump, the stage is set for international hijinks that involve (among others) the Mossad, Sarah Palin, Chuck E. Cheese, Donald Trump and a black ops squad so tough that they refer to Navy SEAL Team 6 as “the Campfire Girls.”
Like The Defiant Ones on a three-week bender, adversaries-turned-abrasive-and-reluctant-allies Horkman and Peckerman manage to stay, astonishingly, one shaky misstep ahead of catastrophe. At every turn, just at the exact moment you think things can’t possibly go further off the rails—they do, in a whitewater-swift cascade of errors, goofs, foul-ups, bad luck, dumb luck, happy accidents and miraculous flukes. Through it all, Barry and Zweibel bring on the funny in a rocket-fueled romp whose pages practically turn themselves.