A hunchback finds himself in the middle of the mother of all political-religious feuds in this new medieval comedy from Broken Lizard.
An often unsung hero of modern comedy has been the troupe known as Broken Lizard; after breaking through in 2002 with the cult hit Super Troopers, they followed it up with Club Dread and Beerfest, both of which would cement their status as contemporary kings of comedy. After years of absence following Super Troopers 2, the five-man team returns to Searchlight Pictures with the straight-to-Hulu, Medieval France-set comedy Quasi, which sets a standard for feature-length comedies for the rest of the year thanks to its hilarious dialogue, the comedic timing and dedication of its cast, its clever double effects and fast paced editing.
In similar vein to the masterpiece Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Quasi pokes fun at the violent tyranny which surrounded 13th century France, where the hardened but jaded hunchback Quasi (Steve Lemme) works at a torture chamber with his hutmate Duchamp (Kevin Heffernan) and weirdly eager new recruit Michel (Erik Stolhanske). One day Quasi’s rallying cry for his fellow poorfolk to be able to eat the same food as the king catches the attention of new Queen Catherine (Adrienne Palicki), who grants him an audience with the ruthless King Guy (Jay Chandrasekhar) so he can voice his concerns.
King Guy agrees to reward him with all the oysters and fancy comestibles he can eat if he carries out one task: to kill his archnemesis the Pope (Paul Soter) upon his visit for the Queen’s coronation so he can form an alliance between his army and that of England. In another stroke of good (or bad) luck, Quasi wins the right to confess his sins to the Pope, only for the Roman pontiff figure to request he assassinate King Guy for being a political and religious enemy of the Vatican. From there, the hapless hunchback finds himself stuck in the middle of a blood feud between two royal psychopaths and plots a way out of his predicament with Duchamp, unaware that their friendship is growing strained amid frustration and jealousy.
Broken Lizard is a very funny team and their talent is on full display here, because Quasi is not only a very funny comedy but also a smartly written one for all the avenues it traverses in order to skewer its subject matter from every angle. For instance, the film begins with a storybook flipping through pages of absurdly graphic executions, soon followed by a gross out gag that sees the titular protagonist get excrement hurled at his person for being a deformed monstrosity. However, the film is wise enough to breeze through the absurdism of the era’s cruelty before it gets old to make room for jokes at the expense of its highstanding villains, aka the true monsters in this time period. King Guy mispronounces words such as ‘adorable’ and openly ponders how to punish his poor jester for failing to make him laugh, while the Pope demands his assistant cartoonishly nibble on his food to test it for poison before eating it himself.
The running jokes are also impeccably timed in the script of Quasi, from Duchamp’s insistence that he and Quasi are best friends only for the hunchback to still refer to him as his hutmate and nothing more, to their friend and co-worker Michel growing inexplicably taller after every test of the torture rack. The actors also elicit laughter through their performances, whether it’s the psychotically over-the-top facial expression and growl of a guard robotically following orders to kill his best friend for eavesdropping on a private conversation, or the jaded sarcasm in Quasi’s voice after Queen Catherine confides in him a fear that her life is in imminent danger.
The entire ensemble does a great job with their comedic timing and dedication to their characters, particularly Lemme’s uncanny ability to add and retain a rasp to Quasi’s voice and embed his mouth to the side for the film’s duration. Meanwhile, the trick photography also makes each actor’s dual roles into their own visual gag, such as when Duchamp and King Guy’s assistant have a conversation, which brings to life the image of Kevin Heffernan talking to himself. Another aspect that’s admirable about Quasi is how quick the editing is to match the pacing of Quasi and Duchamp’s banter, such as when the latter repeatedly insists he has friends in other parts of the country in an effort to make the hunchback jealous.
Not all of the jokes in Quasi land, however. There are instances where the script relies on dated innuendos that more juvenile audiences will find hilarious as older filmgoers groan, such as when Queen Catherine compliments Quasi’s torture rack, to which the hunchback responds by complimenting her bosom. It’s also worth noting that the film does get a little too twisty with wrapping up its arcs at the end, and some might frown upon the full extent of why the Pope and King Guy hate each other once revealed, as it could be seen as offensive by today’s standards.
But comedy is ultimately subjective, and Quasi is another hilarious entry to Broken Lizard’s solid cinematic output. Audiences will laugh at all the ways that the barbarism of Medieval France is skewered, find appeal in the novelty of its production design, and be endeared to Quasi’s character to the point of wanting to see him learn to let emotional connections into his life from the start to the end. The story at the script’s center is as powerful as the belly laughs it conjures from all who view the film, and that’s why Quasi is a comedy worth seeing.