If you’re like me, you fail to see the justice in how a brilliant sketch comedy show like “The State” was allowed to falter on MTV and CBS while the bloated corpse of “Saturday Night Live” continues to be propped up no matter how long ago the comedy died. I suppose it’s only fair that with an endless series of SNL epics that are generally slightly less funny than your average Costa-Gavras picture, the kids from “The State” get their own shot at the multiplex. Now, several members of that troupe have written (Michæl Showalter and David Wain), directed (Wain), and/or starred (Showalter, Michæl Ian Black, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino, and in cameos Kerri Kenney and Wain) in “Wet Hot American Summer.”
Strangely, what on first glance would appear to be an attempt at another “Meatballs” is actually a parody of that Bill Murray movie and the whole genre of summer camp flicks. Well, no one has tried this before. The whole film takes place on the last day of summer camp at Camp Firewood in 1981. After pissing away the whole season, all the counselors and a few of the campers decide to make this day count and accomplish something, ANYTHING. Camp director Beth (Janeane Garofalo) uses the day to pursue the shy astrophysicist (David Hyde Pierce) living next door. He spends part of the day trying to prevent a chunk of Spacelab from crashing into the camp. Dorky counselor Coop (Showalter) makes his play for sexy colleague Katie (Marguerite Moreau) who’s in love with idiot lifeguard Andy (Paul Rudd). Victor (Marino) needs to get back to camp to bed Abby (Marisa Ryan), but by the time he does, there might be a line. Gail (SNL’er Molly Shannon) uses her arts and crafts class for nine-year-olds to come to terms with her divorce.
J.J. (Zak Orth) and Gary (A.D. Miles) must come to terms with the secret of their pal McKinley (Michæl Ian Black) which involves Ben (Bradley Cooper). Ben has his own problems helping the demented Susie (Amy Poehler) carry off the talent show of her dreams. Finally, there’s the camp cook, Vietnam vet Gene (Christopher Meloni), who just has some, uh, serious issues.
Well, “The State” wasn’t necessarily for everybody, and neither is this movie. A number of people in the audience with me seemed to chafe at the style and dismiss the film as stupid. However, a key element of the old show is that any sketch could end either in whimsy or just the cruel whims of fate. The same goes for the multiple storylines of “Wet Hot American Summer.” The results don’t always go over smoothly and not every story pays off that well. But once you get into the flow with Wain and Showalter and understand what they’re trying to do, the movie is pretty damn funny. You just have to get into the zone. I believe liquor and drugs would help.
Get more and read Film Threat’s interview with the filmmaker behind “Wet Hot American Summer” in WET HOT AMERICAN: DIRECTOR DAVID WAIN>>>