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IN SHORT: Ed Wood can rest easier for now there is a film worse than anything he inflicted on the buying public. [Rated R for strong sexual content, language and a drug sequence. 97 minutes]
From the time Thomas Edison rolled his first reel [readers in France may make the appropriate substitution] there have been only a handful, perhaps less than a handful of films that are so universal in their content that, regardless of race, creed, color, religion or sexual orientation, they may be hailed as the triumphant cinematic creations that they are. It once was that climbing Mount Everest was the pinnacle of human achievement, but Ev is a tourist trap these days. In a time when film creations rely more on computer generated imagery and actors, it is a rare treat to find a film that is impeccably cast, with performances so finely tuned that riots approaching religious exaltation have been reported at the film festivals where they unspool. It has been reliably reported that at one of these festivals, the ghost of Stanley Kubrick was seen hovering above the audience, the light of his Ultimate Radiance blessing and affirming the utter magnificence of the film before him.
Wet Hot American Summer is not that film.
From the time Frankie and Annette made Beach Party in 1963, there have been those summertime, watch the teens romp in the sun with wet, glistening bodies gleaming and all body parts capable of bouncing doing so with great bounciness movies. As the years went on, the naked-er the better.
And in keeping with the traditions of those great summertime films, there is not one wet, shiny, glistening, naked breast to be seen in Wet Hot American Summer. There is one chick with an active tongue, so all you Spider-Man fans pay attention to a character named Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks), as Banks will play Betty Brant, good girl, in next year's Spider-Man. Elizabeth has little to do other than grab the nearest guy and massage his tonsils with what would be a fine piece of deli meat if she were a cow. She isn't. Liz is a fine piece in a bikini and that's about the speed of that subplot in a story about one stud determined to nail every girl at the camp across the lake (sic).
At least that's how we remember it, which is barely not at all. Despite all the you know 'em from television names in the supporting cast, this summer camp frolic has nothing that we associate with summer camp comedies. No breasts. No killer rock soundtrack. No comedy and a lot of actors way too old to be playing camp kids (so we're assuming that they're counselors) in this badly written, one joke comedy. We'd seen that one joke in another bad summer teen movie the week before we planted for Wet Hot American Summer, so that fell flat as well.
The year is 1981. Pity pool Janeane Garofalo as Beth, the Director of Camp Firewood, in the lovely state of Maine. Garofalo looks like she is passing a kidney stone, or whatever the femme equivalent of that most painful biological event is, in her role as the only woman at camp who hasn't got a boyfriend by the last day of summer. While the last minute appearance of Henry Neuman (David Hyde Pierce) offers her an option, the man looks like he wishes he had been accidentally shot in the foot. He's waiting to hear about a scientific award and tenure at the college where he is an associate untenured professor. In the meantime, he is waiting for Skylab to fall. Why he is living in a bunk next to nubile fifteen and sixteen years, is a question that no one sought to raise all summer.
Oh, and it's a Jewish summer camp, so the only perfectly in keeping summer showpiece musical number -- the big talent show on the last day of camp -- is a performance of the song Day by Day from Godspell, the Broadway musical preaching the word of Jesus Christ. It's funny to us Members of the Tribe, but the rest of this awful flick is so awful, so been there done that that not even a fistful -- and I've got a really big fist-- of Class 1 restricted painkillers was not enough to make viewing Wet Hot American Summer bearable.
Wet Hot American Summer features a lot of up and coming teevee actors who will probably be happier if we don't mention their names. So we won't detail their roles ('cuz God knows someone out there is going to think "This can't be that bad" and they should suffer the same fate that we did). We will mention the creative team of Michael Showalter and David Wain, Showalter acts and Wain directs. Both wrote this thing and probably have moms that are righteously proud that their sons got their film made when most of Hollywood is on the unemployment line.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Wet Hot American Summer, he would have paid . . .
As for the rest of television faces trying their best to salvage any dignity from their roles are Molly Shannon, ex of Saturday Night Live as the arts & crafts counselor whose marriage has hit the rocks and Christopher Meloni (of Oz) who makes the most out of his gig as the camp's quite out-of-his-mind cook.
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