Saturday, September 09, 2006

Wet Hot American Summer (Wain, 2001)

The defining moment for Wet Hot American Summer comes late in the film during the summer camp’s climactic talent show. Predictably, this production is filled with acts that are extremely incompetent -- so bad that the filmmakers hope we will be amused by how dreadful they are. Periodically during these acts, we are shown the audience which is laughing uproariously – not in derision it seems, but genuine pleasure. And so, here is the choice given to us by the filmmakers: laugh at the idiots on stage, laugh at the idiots in the audience who are amused by their incompetence or laugh at the idiots who put this film together and hoped to pass it off as legitimate entertainment. Notably, a few moments later, the only earnest performance of the show is performed – an amateurish but heartfelt rendition of a song from the Broadway musical Godspell. How is this effort received? It is met with a loud chorus of boos. It is here where the film most clearly asserts what it stands for. It ridicules aspiration and commitment in favor of half-assed wisecracking. And as it does so, it also strives to deflect any responsibility from itself to be creative or inventive. It hopes that we will be content to mirror the mindless idiots laughing along to nothing in particular. The joke’s on us.

Wet Hot American Summer is a film that we know to be a comedy mostly because it contains a cast composed largely of people who have been known to be funny in other situations. David Hyde Pierce, Janeane Garofalo, Molly Shannon, Michael Ian Black and Amy Poehler have all made me laugh heartily at other times. Their presence together should theoretically guarantee an enjoyable time. However, in this case, they have been given an aimless script that seeks to satirize a small, forgettable group of films that hardly need to be knocked down a peg. Do we really need someone to make a film pointing out the tired clichés in Meatballs? All of these actors have worked with better material – hell, a few of them have written better material – and their desperation in trying to breathe life into this turkey is evident in virtually every scene. When they are not mugging shamelessly in an effort to squeeze any sort of humor out of a largely incoherent script, they are performing with a wink and a nod in order to let us know that they are above it. Whole subplots and characters go absolutely nowhere. We find out that two characters are gay and … that’s it. They’re gay. The smelly kid who won’t take a shower? Well, guess what happens to him! Set-up after set-up leads to an eventual payoff that was a lot funnier when we imagined it in our own minds at the beginning of the film. Some of the absence of wit could be forgiven if it were at the very least fun and raunchy; however, despite the use of words “wet” and “hot” in the title, this film is certainly not going to leave the viewer feeling either.



Blogger RC said...

i'm interested in Wain's film The Ten coming out...well, who know's when...but i want to know more about it. i'm curious.

--RC of

10:19 PM  

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