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BOOK REVIEW

‘Lunatics’ by Alan Zweibel and Dave Barry

"Lunatics" by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel

“I never had any intention of urinating on Sarah Palin,’’ one of the two mismatched narrators informs us toward the end of “Lunatics,’’ the screwball comedy of errors co-written by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel. It’s a significant moment, not only for its ability to project Snapple from a reader’s nostrils onto the printed page, but because it captures the novel’s lowbrow humor aimed at leaders who could stand to loosen up a little. The story recounts the madcap adventures of Philip Horkman and Jeffrey Peckerman, a straight man/funny man pair of New Jersey dads who are, through an absurd series of plot points, mistaken for terrorists. This launches the duo into a game of global hopscotch, on the run from a collection of menacing forces, including a (non-existent) black ops team. As they get into a series of fine messes, “understated wit’’ is not a phrase that springs to mind, fortunately. Comic novels often feel like humor writing begging to be taken seriously; “Lunatics’’ has no literary pretensions. It’s a rare political satire: one full of first-rate pee and poop jokes.

Not to mention the funniest four-page diarrhea scene ever to be set on a submarine bound for Guantanamo. (It comes after the part where they inadvertently liberate Cuba from the dictatorial regime.)

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For Barry, master of the craft known in comparative literature as “boy humor,’’ smart, scatological comedy has never been a contradiction in terms. The dude has a Pulitzer, and among his collected works are such titles as “Boogers are My Beat’’ and “Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys.’’ In collaboration with Zweibel, he departs from his affable, class clown persona into refreshingly filthy language and politically incorrect plot points. In what could be the book’s standout scene, the fictional duo is helicoptered to Yemen and ordered to host a propaganda talk show described by the director as “joshing camaraderie between two humorous friends, interspersed with playful references to the need to exterminate all Jews from the planet.’’

Since Zweibel is best known for his work on edgy television comedies including “Saturday Night Live,’’ “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,’’ and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,’’ it’s fitting that each brief chapter (told from alternating “he said/he said’’ points of view) unfolds like a TV episode, albeit one from the “Get Smart’’ glory days of bungled abductions and attaché cases handcuffed to wrists.

Nuanced character development isn’t what you’d call a big selling point. Readers left wondering why, for instance, Peckerman’s first impulse upon being trapped in a refrigerator crate is to masturbate, will wish the authors dug deeper to unearth the roots of his adolescent narcissism. Readers with a sense of humor honed on the “Blazing Saddles’’ sensibility of the 1970s will be satisfied with the paragraph where he tells us his dad used to make him sit in a dog crate in the back of their station wagon. This comes before the part where they each get nominated for president, and after the part where they slip on banana peels.

Between fart jokes, you might begin to wonder who the lunatics of the title really are. A couple of clowns from New Jersey? Or the political and media machine that winds up embracing them as the “Fantasmas de la Noche,’’ a team of terrorists-turned-superheroes that brings justice to the world?

With world affairs in the toilet, Barry and Zweibel bring us what we need: comic relief.

Dan Zevin’s latest book, “Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad,’’ will be published by Scribner in May.
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