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Orange County

Starring Colin Hanks, Jack Black, Catherine O'Hara, Schuyler Fisk, John Lithgow with Lily Tomlin; Garry Marshall, Ben Stiller, Kevin Kline
Screenplay by Mike White
Directed by Jake Kasdan

IN SHORT: Just an average comedic dateflick but not a waste of time. [Rated PG-13 for drug content, language and sexuality.]

Considering that the teevee advertising for Orange County makes it look like any other comedy about a terminally stoned guy, in this case played by actor Jack Black. It isn't. It is the story of ex-stoner slash surfboarder Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks) who, inspired by a random discovery of writer Marcus Skinner's novel "Straight Jacket," decides to become a writer and study at his idol's feet at Stanford University. The decision doesn't thrill his work obsessed, multimillionaire father Bud (John Lithgow), who is as neglectful of his new family as he was of his old; his alcoholic mom Cindy (Catherine O'Hara), who wants to keep her baby at home; his stoner brother Lance (Jack Black), who points out that he has done "just fine" without college or his girlfriend Ashley (Schuyler Fisk), who would prefer to have her guy join her at the local community college. Shaun's senior year turnaround into a straight-A student, combined with huge test score numbers (1590 on his SATs) make his admission to Stanford "a shoo-in," according to his guidance counselor Charlotte Cobb (Lily Tomlin). Thus, with her assurance that applying elsewhere would be pointless, Shaun sets himself up for the biggest fall of his life and the impossible task of setting everything straight -- Shaun is turned down because of a simple applications error which, had it been caught early enough, could have been set right. Why, logically, it wasn't is explained by a very clever circumstance buried in the script by Mike White.

Yeah, Orange County could have gone the stupid teen comedy route, but it surprised all us old aged critics by tossing surprise after surprise at us, many of which were surprise cameos or bit parts by the likes of Ben Stiller and Chevy Chase -- Chase, as school principal Harbert , is now close to making the pained expression of a middle aged man doomed to a job he hates into an art form. By the time we had gotten used to the fact that we were going to be kept on our toes by unexpected "name" actors showing up unexpectedly, Shaun makes face to face contact with the now Professor Skinner and dumps the biggest uncredited cameo on our heads. We're not going to spill because, one way or another, you will eventually see this flick regardless of age demographic. This is why:

Even with a PG-13 rating due to drug use, the film does a remarkable dance around Jack Black's Lance's indulgences. The character is red-eyed stoned most of the time and when questions as to his pill taking priorities come up, the script manages to avoid mentioning any specific controlled substance by name. If you know the side effects of some of these black market pills, you'll get the joke and (if you're baby-sitting kids that shouldn't know) you're probably smart enough to come up with some explanation.

We, fortysomethings that we are, were surprised that Orange County didn't flat out suck, as we expected. All the grownups in the cast carry such substantial comedic creds that even those with the shortest roles kept us in the zone. The targeted kidlets half our age split: 20-something guys seemed to hate the film and 20-something gals seemed to enjoy it. Hunker down, men, Orange County fits the dateflick rating level perfectly.

A last minute, nearly midnight run to the Stanford campus -- and it is emphasized that Stanford had no part in the making of this film -- yields a gem of a bit part for actress Jane Adams and a rare screen appearance for National Lampoon founder Harold Ramis, as Stanford dean of Admissions Don Durkett. While the film tries to achieve that totally out of control feel to its visual comedy, it holds itself back as if trying to keep both ends of the demographic spectrum happy. We didn't look too closely at the press notes before our screening, and thus didn't hypothesize until afterwards how this average film could land such above average actors as Lithgow, Tomlin, Stiller, Chase, O'Hara, director Garry Marshall and Phoebe Cates' husband. Hollywood is a closed community once you get high up on the list. Director Jake Kasdan is the son of writer/ producer/ director Lawrence Kasdan; actress Schuyler Fisk is daughter of actress Sissy Spacek and actor Colin Hanks is the son of someone significant, we're sure. . . and that may be why Jack Black is getting more attention than a supporting actor should. Otherwise, it would look like the studio is kissing Tom Hank's butt. We met Hanks once. He modestly and greatly dismissed any personal clout in the biz. All the kidlets do good, startup work in a perfectly average comedy. Whatever the reason the names turned out, there's a price level at which you'll be more than happy to plant for Orange County.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Orange County, he would have paid . . .


That's wait for pay-per-view for us oldsters. Kidlets still hot and heavy in the dating years should add a buck to bring it up to dateflick level. At least half the dating couple is going to be happy, and the other half isn't going to feel that (he's) been ripped off. We walked out behind a pair of 20-somethings comparing notes, one of whom said "Cranky would give $3.99" to which his pal said "I'd only give $3.49"

Hand on the Bible true. We felt parental proud and would have gotten plastered at the back end of a childless funk, except that we don't drink anymore.

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