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Film review: Wet Hot American Summer

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 24 2004 3:44 p.m. MDT

Hopefully, filmmakers will wait at least another 10 years or so before they try something like "Wet Hot American Summer" again.

Not that the basic idea behind this send-up of the "Meatballs" movies and the other, much-inferior summer-camp comedies that followed in its wake is a bad one, mind you.

However, that rather meager concept is executed so poorly here that there are times when the only sporadically funny comedy threatens to become worse than the increasingly horrid "Meatballs" sequels.

Also, it's hard to embrace any film that so completely squanders the talents of a cast like this. Among the stars are members of the defunct MTV sketch comedy series "The State," as well as the usually dependable Janeane Garofalo.

But here she's given a pretty thankless role as Beth, the wisecracking director of Maine's Camp Firewood, circa 1981. As such, she's got her hands full with pesky campers, and if that wasn't enough, she's also smitten with the camp's new neighbor, Henry (a moustached David Hyde Pierce), an astrophysics professor on vacation.

Beth wants to spend time with the shy, meek astronomer, so she invites him to teach the camp's "bright" children.

But she's not the only camper with romantic troubles. Coop (Michael Showalter, who co-wrote the film and plays dual roles) has a huge crush on fellow counselor Katie (Marguerite Moreau). Unfortunately, she's already going out with the handsome but dim philanderer Andy (Paul Rudd).

In a normal comedy, these plot threads would add up to something. But here they serve as the impetus for a collection of uneven skits.

It doesn't help that co-screenwriter/director David Wain lingers after the jokes' expiration dates, and that his direction lacks energy.

That puts something of a burden on his cast, and to their credit, both Garofalo and Hyde Pierce both try to make the material funnier by sheer effort.

And though their efforts are in vain, the one you really have to feel sorry for here is Christopher Meloni (TV's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"), stuck in the humiliating role of the camp's deranged cook.

"Wet Hot American Summer" is rated R for occasional use of strong profanity, crude sexual humor and sight gags, simulated sex, both gay and straight (done for laughs), simulated drug use (marijuana, cocaine and heroin) and brief slapstick violence. Running time: 97 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com

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