Wet Hot American Summer
2001, R, 97 min. Directed by David Wain. Starring Michael Showalter, Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Christopher Meloni, Paul Rudd, Molly Shannon.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Nov. 2, 2001
It's a lot of adjectives for one film title to shoulder, but Wet Hot American Summer left off a couple more pertinent ones, like “big,” “dumb,” and “fun.” This spoof of those old summer camp sexcapades of the late Seventies and early Eighties has got the “big” nailed down by dint of its sprawling cast of comedic hams, largely culled from the much-loved comedy troupe the State, which had a sketch show on MTV in the mid-Nineties. Sure, it's dumb, as befitting the satirization of a genre that revolved mostly around that great American pastime of Poppin' the Cherry. And it's a lot more fun than you'd expect, given the critical drubbing Wet Hot's gotten so far -- the film was released in New York in late summer and has quietly, methodically opened in select cities since then – but it's not quite as much fun as it could be. The fault, I think, lies within the hook itself. Director/co-writer Wain and co-writer/star Showalter, both of the State, are so confined by their agenda (that is, to spoof) that they waste too much time aping the conventions of the genre when they should be directing their attention elsewhere (that is, to be as giddy and waggish and oddball and outlandish as their old show). The plot is a piddling thing: It's the last day of summer camp in 1981, and the last chance the counselors have to get laid, put on the talent show extravaganza, woo the camp hottie away from her preening lifeguard boyfriend … oh, and stop that errant chunk of NASA's SpaceLab from hurtling straight toward the mess hall. It's really just a bunch of sketches cobbled together into a feature-length film: Some of the sketches are ridiculously funny – particularly, any of them that involve veteran TV actor Meloni as a scarred Vietnam vet who gets his spiritual guidance from a talking can of mixed vegetables – and some of them fall as flat as a junior camper's training bra. Still, viewed individually, they provide more than enough worthy examples of the State's half-cocked genius. Intrepid TV execs take note: These kids deserve to be back on the small screen, a venue more suitable for their wicked charms.