Quasi Review: A Comedy That's Never Stronger Than When It Is Completely Unreasonable

A colleague of mine, Marc Edward Heuck, once compared the films of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe to 7-Eleven hot dogs. The comparison was meant to be favorable. In both cases, the thinking went, the artisans in question know full well that they are not offering haute cuisine. Instead, the consumer is getting something efficiently constructed, barely flavorful enough, and perfect for a night when the edibles hit a little harder than expected. Broken Lizard's films have never elevated beyond the realm of raunchy, frat boy-style chuckle-fests, but have possessed just enough zingers, oddball gags, and precision-strike profanity to entrench themselves in the friendly cult trench inside the human brain. They possess an affable, thrown-off quality that makes them weirdly appealing, even as the jokes periodically fall flat. 

Their newest film, "Quasi," directed by Kevin Heffernan, and written by the entire troupe (Heffernan, Jay Chandrasekhar, Steve Lemme, Paul Stoker, and Erik Stolhanske) is a "Carry On"-style sendup of Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," but with as much historical accuracy and cultural sensitivity that Mel Brooks brought to "History of the World, Part I." And despite the film's clear edict to include as many tasteless jokes as possible — before the film's ending, one will see a man's scrotum being nailed to a tree stump — "Quasi" possesses a strangely disarming, hangout quality, leaving it feeling ultimately harmless and even a little bit friendly. Well, its treatment of the disabled completely notwithstanding; their Quasimodo isn't exactly a model of good representation.

Late-stage gross-out

But unlike the gross-out comedies of the early 2000s — and Broken Lizard's own "Super Troopers" and "Club Dread" contributed to the trend — "Quasi" doesn't feel aggressive or mean-spirited. Perhaps because the Lizard boys are now in their 50s, they have mellowed out from their early fratboy days and have settled into better-worn comedy traditions like the aforementioned "History of the World" or even the historical films of Monty Python. 

"Quasi" is set in a version of medieval France where everyone speaks English and the actual year is confrontationally unclear. The local king is King Guy (Chandrasekhar), who was coronated in 1186. He has a rivalry with the aggressive, power-hungry Pope Cornelius (Soter), whose real-life rule of the Church lasted from A.D. 251 to 253. History buffs will be slamming their heads against their nearest copy of Thucydides. 

The titular Quasi (Lemme), as explained in a stern, f-bomb-heavy narration by Brian Cox, has left the events of Victor Hugo's novel long behind him, and now works as an expert torturer for the corrupt King Guy. His best friend is Duchamp (Heffernan), a jovial and chipper fellow who is eager to try out Quasi's brand-new invention, the rack, on his dungeon's waiting guinea pig (Stolhanske). Thanks to a special lottery, Quasi wins an audience with the visiting Pope, which is this film's equivalent of a date with a movie star. Duchamp instantly becomes jealous, and the true depths of his friendship with Quasi will become a central theme of the film. Quasi, meanwhile, is secretly consigned by the Pope to assassinate the King. When he gains an audience with the King, he is likewise consigned to assassinate the Pope. 

His predicament is complicated by his falling in love with the Queen (Adrianne Palicki, as game as she's ever been).

The warmth of Broken Lizard

"Quasi" is rarely anything less than amusing as it skips trippingly across its own intentional idiocy and weirdly assertive attempts at establishing running gags; the lower-stationed characters dream of eating oysters, the most exotic food imaginable to them. The preoccupation with oysters will become a driving force in the plot. It's about as effective as their attempt to turn "Whatever mother****er" into a catchphrase in their 2009 comedy "The Slammin' Salmon." That is to say: it didn't work. 

The members of Broken Lizard have become so accustomed to working together, that their comedic timing is approaching something close to virtuosity. Within a scene, each member knows how to riff off of the previous performer's lines, knowing when to throw away a gag and when to highlight it. One might not be on the same wavelength as Broken Lizard's National Lampoon-adjacent adolescent comedy, but one has to admire how well-oiled and committed the troupe has become, even when throwing off a low-budget trifle like "Quasi." The film is not a vehicle for any one performer, and the troupe members each give the others ample room to be funny. One can sense the respect they have for each other. 

That respect, sadly, doesn't always add up to high hilarity. "Quasi" possesses no propulsion, so sense of mounting chaos, no over-arching comedic joke. Its medieval setting provides a visually interesting backdrop — if Ren-Faire-level costumes are amusing to you — but apart from a few anachronisms, isn't exploited to its full potential. The performers are so relaxed and at ease in their performances, they forgot to add a vital element of panic or chaos to the proceedings. 


"Quasi" isn't so much a parody of Victor Hugo as a hastily-scrawled footnote that an impish teen left in the margins of their classroom copy of "Hunchback." It's certainly worth a laidback, late-night gander at home, but it will likely not achieve the bonkers cult status of "Super Troopers." 

It is, however, on pace with the previous Broken Lizard movies. After "Super Troopers," the troupe satirized slasher movies with "Club Dread," a film that was more interested in drinking and camping than it was its horror elements. Although not officially considered a Broken Lizard film, most of the troupe reunited to make the "Dukes of Hazzard" movie, a film that had little reverence toward its dumb-ass source material. That was followed by 2006's "Beerfest," a movie about a group of hapless American tourists who become involved in a Kumite-syle beer-drinking contest in Germany. 2009's "The Slammin' Salmon" may be their most underrated film, tracing a single night in the life of an overrun high-end seafood restaurant, told from the perspective of the wait staff. It's one of the better workplace comedies of its era. 

In 2018, they returned with a fan-backed "Super Troopers 2," which, apart from an insane opening dream sequence, fell a little flat. It was made for fans and didn't welcome anyone new to the fold.

"Quasi" is a strangely relaxed return to form, with now-familiar faces enjoying themselves making a movie they know is merely a goof. It's not going to be nutritious, and you've had food that tastes better, but, as my colleague Mr. Heuck once said, sometimes a 7-Eleven hot dog is all you need. 

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10

"Quasi" will debut on Hulu on April 20.