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“I went to camp so long ago we used to make drawings…cave drawings!”
There is a sort of anti-comedy comedy thing going on in Wet Hot American Summer that really does work. Sometimes. Anyone who has seen the Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget…so, both of you who have seen Comedy Central’s Roast of Bob Saget will understand the anti-comedy humour if you remember Norm McDonald’s bit – “Bob Saget has a face like a beautiful flower…a cauliflower!” It’s so cheesy, so bad, and so stupid that even a four-year-old who thought it up would still find it average at best. In Wet Hot American Summer, most of that anti-comedy comes from scenarios that are pretty standard in any last-day-of-summer-camp movie. And believe it or not, there are many last-day-of-summer-camp movies to lampoon.
The cast is full of the standard characters. The nerdy dweeb with a mop-top hairdo. The self-obsessed muscle guy who in reality is far less cool than he makes himself out to be. The bad-boy James Dean type who gets his comeuppance. And then doesn’t. The mean-ass, crazy cook who has Vietnam flashbacks. Even though he was never in ‘Nam. The insecure crybaby arts and crafts teacher. The almost-loser camp director who falls in love with the geeky astrophysicist who lives nearby. And of course the slutty girls who have sex with everyone, and the gorgeous smart young Designated Hot Chick who is the object of everyone’s desire.
And the people who play these characters make up a truly impressive cast. Janeane Garofalo (Mystery Men), David Hyde-Pierce (Frasier), Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: SVU), Molly Shannon (Saturday Night Live, Superstar), Amy Poehler (Saturday Night Live, Baby Mama), Elizabeth Banks (Zack And Miri Make A Porno), Paul Rudd (Knocked Up), and several other recognizable people. It seems that (since this movie was actually made in 2001) the main reason this is being released on DVD now, March 10th 2009 by Alliance Films, is that virtually everyone in the cast has gone on to become a fairly big star. And a film with this many names will sell.
But a film with this many name actors is not always good. And it ought to be noted that at the time of the movie, many of the actors were not yet big names. Poehler had not yet lampooned Hilary Clinton on Saturday Night Live. Rudd had not yet appeared in 40 Year Old Virgin. And Banks was years away from her scene-stealing moment in that same film. In fact, Wet Hot American Summer was her screen debut. All of them are decent, but they are given very little to actually do. The result is a movie with a few terrific moments, but not enough. The rest of this film is boring.
I don’t think I actually laughed once during this entire film. I smiled a lot, at some of the silly send-ups of Camp Movies (Camp Movies, ironically, tending to be very campy themselves), but I certainly never found myself busting a gut, or looking forward to the next scene. Most of the comedy is so lame that it’s cute. It isn’t really funny, but it’s cute. And that’s about all I can say about the movie. It’s cute, but it’s pretty boring and not nearly as smart as it thinks it is. On the plus side, at least the actors looked like they were enjoying themselves.