May 11, 2011

#128: Wet Hot American Summer (5/10)

Back in high school, especially the last couple years of it, I didn't watch all that many movies. I felt like I did, but other than going out on dates from time to time I really didn't. Even in college I didn't see that many. Later on I started watching more, but for the first couple years I watched almost nothing. This means I have a gap from 1998 to 2003 where I saw very few movies (by comparison to what I see these days anyway). I missed out on a lot. I've been trying to go back and fill in the gaps. The good part is that I can pretty easily filter out all the crap movies that came out during that time and focus on the good ones. One that I'd been meaning to catch up with forever finally came to Netflix instant... Wet Hot American Summer.

From the beginning this film wasn't going to get a fair shake. For the last 10 years I have only heard glowing praise for it. I remember a couple guys in college describe it as the funniest movie of all time. Critics that I listen to have mentioned their love for it also. It had been built up so much there was no way it could live up to the hype. I tried to keep that in mind as I watched it.

Wet Hot American Summer is a spoof movie before spoof movies were bastardized the way they have been over the last several years. With any comedy the goal is to make you laugh. I did that several times, so I have to count it as a success. So many comedies these days don't even get a handful of laughs out of me. This did, so that means it worked. Wet Hot American Summer was surprisingly clever at moments... but those were offset by just as many totally stupid gags. In the 3rd act the stupidity got worse, and I was ready for it to be over. However, there is a pretty great scene where Katie talks to "Coop" as she is leaving camp that made it all worthwhile.

This film is spoofing the summer camp genre... if that is really even a genre. It seems like there used to be tons of summer camp movies back in the day, but I can't think of a recent one. I guess we have become too cool for summer camp, and we can only enjoy it ironically. Wet Hot American Summer has some genuinely funny moments; some really great bits. However, the through-line connecting these disparate bits never really worked. The film never succeeded at creating the nostalgic "camp" feeling that so many movies it was mocking did quite well. To be fair, I watched those other movies when I was much younger and didn't have a sense for solid narrative. I'm just writing what I feel.  That's what we're all about here at

So... we have plenty of funny moments, but the overall plot felt scattered. It wasn't able to make to create a solid character that we could follow. I suppose Coop is the main character, but there is so much other stuff going on that you never get any emotional stakes going with his budding relationship. It might be a little ridiculous to be talking about emotional stakes in a movie like this, but still... I look for that kind of crap.

I wanted to love this movie. I almost did love the first half. It started to stumble at some point and barely limped across the finish line. By the end it has brought itself back down to mediocrity. By the time it was all said and done it felt less like a movie and more like a series of clever sketches.  There was no clue to hold it together. No funny doodles to fill in the margins. That said, this is a film that probably gets funnier upon multiple viewings.

I expected this film to transcend comedy. I thought it was going to make me throw up from the sheer amount of gut-busting laughs. Alas, it did disappoint.  It is better than the run-of-the-mill crap that comes out every year, and I'm glad I watched it.

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