May 21, 2012

Rabid Rewind: Wet Hot American Summer

Wet Hot American Summer
starring Michael Showalter, Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, and Christopher Meloni
directed by David Wain
screenplay by David Wain and Michael Showalter
USA Films (2001)

I finally watched this movie and it only took me 11 years to do it. It was an underdog comedy set to come out during the summer of 2001, and given it was a satire of those old comedies of the 80s, like Porky's and Meatballs, that I loved as a kid, it seemed like a sure hit. Then, it got crapped on by everybody and tanked at the theater so bad, the only movie that might have done worse that year was Mariah Carey's Glitter. Sufficed to say, I never bothered going to the theater to see it, and I never made an effort to find it on VHS--yes, there were still more video-tapes than DVDs way back then.

Then, around 2007, something happened. I guess enough time had passed, and Wet Hot American Summer hit some kind of cult status. My interest was renewed, but it wouldn't be until this year that I'd finally get my hands on a copy.

It's 1981 and the last day of summer camp for a group of Jewish kids in a bucolic section of Maine. There's a talent show in the works for that night, but in the mean time everyone is trying to squeeze as much fun out of their final hours before they all have to go home. For Coop (Michael Showalter), that means finally asking out the girl of his dreams and fellow counselor, Katie (Marguerite Moreau), which is not easy given his shyness and the fact she's been seeing Andy (Paul Rudd). For Victor, that means hooking up with the sluttiest girl at the camp, Abby, only to get relegated to driving a vanload of the kids to go canoeing. And for the camp director, Beth (Janeane Garofalo), she has to balance newfound love with the neighboring astrophysicist (David Hyde Pierce) and keeping the counselors and kids from killing themselves and each other.

If Dazed and Confused had been filmed as a sardonic slapstick, it might have looked something like Wet Hot American Summer. The whole movie is like a frenetic homage to those screwball comedies from the old days. It's kind of uneven in its approach though. Some characters are portrayed so earnestly, while others are played as insane parodies, and when the two share the screen it came off as awkward. The movie is basically a stitched together sketch comedy with just enough plot running through to hold it all together. But when the zaniness is turned up to ridiculous degrees, it kind of takes away from the whole experience.

It's really hard to criticize a movie that intentionally casts actors ten years too old for their roles. That alone makes the movie so delightfully screwed up that any hair-brained points in the movie are unconditionally forgiven. And to see a movie starring actors who are now bona fide stars like Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Amy Poehler, and Bradley Cooper--not to mention bit parts from two of my favorite comedic actors, Judah Friedlander and H. John Benjamin as a can of vegetables--the movie has a wonderful yearbook vibe to it.

I found out there is a prequel in the works with the entire cast reprising their roles. That's so crazy it just might be crazy--and I can't wait to see it.

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