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WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER

2001, dir. David Wain
97 min. Rated R.
Starring: Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Showalter, Marguerite Moreau.

Review by Noel Wood

Last night I got bored. I really donít get that bored that often on a random weeknight, but I did last night. Normally I can entertain myself for hours playing Roller Coaster Tycoon or reading Usenet. I guess last night was particularly boring because I had made plans to go out with a friend who decided to never call me back, leaving me looking forward to leaving the house and getting out and moving. So I decided, in all my boredom, to actually get out and rent a movie. This is odd, because I rarely rent movies. You see, I have the attention span of a kitten when it comes to watching television. I know this seems weird and all because I have a movie website and spent three and a half years working in a video store, but itís true. Television to me is a nice background noise to accompany whatever else Iím doing, whether it be surfing the net, playing a game, reading, or whatever. As a result, most of the movies I see are in the theater. Honestly, I can watch a dozen movies back to back theatrically and never get bored, but if I miss the theatrical release, thereís a good chance Iíll never see it unless I get in a bizarre mood. On top of all this, most movies Iíve seen lately were borrowed from friends, and I have a shit-ton of stuff on tape that Iíve been trying to force myself to watch for ages, including some 96 hours of ďMystery Science Theater 3000Ē and dozens of Japanese ďTransformersĒ episodes.

    

That said, last night I was tempted to go out and rent a movie, partly out of boredom, but mainly out of morbid curiosity for all the movies Iíve managed to miss over the past year or so. After trying to get my car to start for several minutes (fucking starter) I got to the local Bl*ckB*ster around the corner and took a look around. Itís too bad THE MAN WHO WASNíT THERE wasnít in stock, because I really wanted to see that. I needed something relatively short because it was a work night and I still have that whole attention span thing going on, so it was down to two choices: the Jack Black vehicle SHALLOW HAL and the feature from MTVís ill-fated ďThe StateĒ comedy troupe, WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER. I went with the latter, primarily due to some recent recommendations from friends.

Last time I do that. I swear.

Basically, this movie sucks. I could just say that and move on, but there are so many reasons why this movie sucks that I can go into that I just canít let it slide so easy. Iíve seen so much praise from so many people about this comedy, and I just donít understand it. Let me get this clear: I didnít go in to this movie with high expectations. I had read a little about it when it was released theatrically last summer, and was honestly pretty enthusiastic about the film. I thought ďThe StateĒ was ok when it was on, It didnít come close to rivaling the ďKids in the HallĒ or anything but it was mildly amusing. Then again, that was about 8 years ago, and my tastes have changed a lot in that time. For all I know, it could suck ass. But I knew the movie was going to be a pretty mindless comedy and a spoof of late 70ís/early Ď80s summer camp movies. I wasnít hoping for dynamic character development or enthralling plotlines. What I was expecting, however, was laughs. I donít remember doing that one time in the hour and a half I spent watching the movie.

    

The movie starts out well enough We open to the beginning of the last day of summer at Camp Firewood, located somewhere in Maine in the year 1981. Janeane Garofalo is camp director Beth, who has developed a crush on an astrophysics professor played by David Hyde Pierce. Garofalo and Pierce certainly lend a sense of optimism to the movie, both very capable comedic performers. Unfortunately, theyíre not enough to hold the thing together for very long. The first half hour or so is presented as a pretty straightforward comedy, with subtle parody of MEATBALLS and the like, and introduces a slew of characters that we just start to get warmed up to until the mood of the movie suddenly decides to do a complete 360. What happens next is the devolution of the film into a mindless slapstick farce that sets up tons of bad jokes that never seem to pay off.

This starts in a scene where the kids decide to hitch a ride into town with Beth to pick up a few things. As a musical score plays, they go from smoking cigarettes and drinking to smoking pot to buying cocaine to sitting in a crackhouse struggling to get a fix. The scene is implied as a fantasy, but its purpose is exactly none. It doesnít fit with the rest of the movie thus far and really isnít on a comedic level at all. From this point we get back into the straightforward comedy for a bit, but the movie eventually becomes a string of far-fetched jokes that just donít work. If this had been the purpose from the start, itíd be a different story. But it seems to me that the writers of this movie got bored about thirty pages into the script and just decided to fuck around with sketch comedy. Iím all for farce and parody, but it has to be funny. Thereís a scene in which Beth and one of the teens are looking for the location of a placed phone call in the camp, and rush into an infirmary screaming and knocking things over. Sure, itís played as an over-the-top joke, but it looks forced and is so unbelievably obvious that it really made me cringe to watch it. Garofalo even looks like sheís sleepwalking through the scene, as if to say ďMy career has sunk to this?Ē

    

Parody is nice, but you have to pick your parody wisely. Generally, when the Abrams/Zucker boys or the Wayans folks spoof something, itís done with something relevant. Sending up Horror Movies when theyíre at their most popular, spoofing ďIn the HoodĒ movies, whatever it takes. Iím not saying all of those type of movies are comedic gems, but poking fun of something thatís on the publicís mind is a good way to generate comedy. On the other hand, the last time I recall a summer camp/teen sex movie being relevant was two decades ago. To paraphrase Steve Martin, spoofing dead movie genres is ďlike making Ike jokesĒ.

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