The other night we watched a movie with one of my favorite character actors…who has the distinction of appearing more than any other actor on Saturday Night Live. Christopher Walken.
The movie is called $5 a day, and is the story of a father and son road trip where nobody spends a dime, and everyone has a good time. Getting there, though, was the tough part. Walken is telling the world he’s got a tumor, he’s gonna die, so he has to make one last trip. And he wants his son to drive him.
It’s a familiar template: reunited, bitter at first, then a few smiles and a vignette that shows them moving closer. But besides that, the movie provided hilarious glimpes into how to cadge stuff for free from coast to coast. He stops by the Holiday Inn, and in a fake English accent, phones in a room-service order for breakfast to a phantom room. He meets the waiter in the hall, and graciously relieves him of his tray of eggs and urns of coffee.
He tips his favorite masseues with gift certificates and phone cards, he shuffles off, beloved, as he charms them with discounts at IHOP. He meets up with an old friend, played with a sexy flair by Sharon Stone, at his age his impedance keeps him from doing what she wants of him.
He makes pals with a woman standing in front of a convention function, they share that they both like their hair. Walken’s is in a buffont, hers is to her ass, so they bond, in that moment, giving him a chance to ask her if he can slip , and soon he’s scarfing down chicken at a table sitting next to executives at a firm he pretends to be working for. “Do you work for Thomas?” they ask him. “Oh yeah, T-bird, he’s quite a guy,” replies Walken. It goes on for a while as he seduces another man’s wife across the table, ends up dancing with her, and then they pull him out back and threaten his life. He gets saved when his son pretends to be a health inspector who’s going to shut down the banquet hall.
They sleep in a senior citizen retirement condo after enduring a long sales pitch. They creep into a home for sale, and when interrupted by a realtor on a house tour, feign that they’re gay lovers and their offer is coming in very soon. They edge their way out the door.
These moments of cadgery are so cleverly written they paint a picture. It’s of a guy who loves a discount as much as a deal, and besides being oily cheap, is surprisingly cuddly. From the Vietnamese women giving pedicures to Sharon Stone’s somewhat mysterious, desperate tart bulging out of a sexy top, they all love this guy. Maybe we all love someone who can pull over such scams with such ease and grace.