If a comedy's not going to deliver wall-to-wall laughs, it might as well be likable. So it is that "Super Troopers," a wild 'n' wacky romp about prank-happy Vermont state troopers getting the better of sneering local-cop rivals, manages to leave the impression that it was funny even though most of its jokes don't score.
"Super Troopers" is the work of the five-man Broken Lizard comedy troupe, Colgate University graduates who wrote and star in the movie with member Jay Chandrasekhar directing. Their reference points aren't the current spate of how-low-can-you-go gross-out fests but late '70s/early '80s comedies such as "Animal House" and "Caddyshack," where the on-screen behavior may be stupid, but it's done with some smarts. (Their first movie, the funnier campus comedy "Puddle Cruiser," never was released.)
In "Animal House" the frat house is set to be shuttered; here, the troopers have been targeted as budget casualties by the brassy governor (Lynda "Wonder Woman" Carter). To save their jobs, the group, led by their lovably crusty captain (Brian Cox in an enjoyably chops-licking performance) try to outfox the local cops while solving a murder mystery involving drugs, a pig and a cartoon monkey who comes from the world of "Afghanistanimation."
(Viewers might assume such jokes and references to the Taliban were written post-Sept. 11, but "Super Troopers" premiered and was bought by Fox Searchlight more than a year ago at the Sundance Film Festival.)
The movie contains a few big laughs but many more that graze the funny bone or miss it altogether, in part because the consciously dumbed-down approach wears thin. What keeps you going is the troopers' camaraderie. Whether they're messing with the minds of dopers they've pulled over, coining a new profanity that incorporates the word "chicken," or trying to sneak the word "meow" into their official banter, they're kind of fun to hang around with. Mind you, this is boys-club humor, with Marisa Coughlan playing the token, cute love-interest cop. Nothing is necessarily wrong with that, but some killer jokes and the presence of a John Belushi- or Bill Murray-caliber talent sure wouldn't have hurt.
Directed by Nick Cassavetes; written by James Kearns; photographed by Rogier Stoffers; edited by Dede Allen; production designed by Stefania Celia; music by Aaron Zigman; produced by Mark Burg, Oren Koules. A New Line Cinema release; opens Friday, Feb. 15. Running time: 1:58. MPAA rating: PG-13 (violence, language, intense thematic elements).Opens Friday, Feb. 15. Running time: 1:40. MPAA rating: R (language, sexual content, drug use).
Mark Caro is the Chicago Tribune movie reporter.