Friday August 21, 1998
How's this for a dubious comic premise?: Two college roommates, certain to flunk out their first semester, discover an obscure school regulation stating that if one roommate commits suicide, the other roommate automatically gets straight A's.
In the dreadful "Dead Man on Campus," which is about as funny as a funeral, the roommates (Tom Everett Scott, Mark-Paul Gosselaar) aren't even trying to drive each other to suicide--that might have had bleakly comic possibilities. No, they're simply trying to line up a fellow student whose files, obtained via a little breaking and entering, reveal suicidal tendencies. Then they persuade their various candidates (Lochlyn Munro's manic, self-destructive Cliff; Randy Pearlstein's paranoid computer whiz; and Corey Page's dour punk rocker) to move into their three-man dormitory suite and determine which of them could most likely be pushed over the edge before the semester's over. Maybe if "Dead Man on Campus" had been played as a pitch-dark comedy instead of routine boisterous collegiate gross-out fare with a trite coming-of-age theme. . . .
Under Alan Cohn's straight-on direction, the film, written by various hands, huffs and puffs mightily just to keep a strenuously labored plot going. Everett Scott's Josh arrives a confident if innocent kid with a full scholarship for a six-year medical program. By contrast, Gosselaar's Cooper is a brash playboy who lives for the moment and has no intention of attending classes, certain that he's going to end up working for his father, a toilet cleaning tycoon--but, as his soon-to-be irate parent promises, "not in the office."
Cooper, who has no respect whatsoever for Josh's scholarship and need to study hard to hold on to it, diverts Josh from his books so swiftly with the tried-and-true combination of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll that you lose all respect for the spineless kid. Everett Scott, who starred in Tom Hanks' "That Thing You Do," and Gosselaar, who's in the TV series "Saved by the Bell," are likely to survive to move on to better things, as will other youthful members of the cast.
Of course, the filmmakers, who turn in a technically polished product, would argue that their film is a comedy, not to be taken so seriously. The trouble is that it's not remotely funny enough not to seem merely strained, silly and even disgusting in its ultimate endorsement of conning your way into academic survival.
Dead Man on Campus, 1998. R, for drug use, language and crude sexual humor. A Paramount Pictures presentation in association with MTV Films of a Pacific Western production. Director Alan Cohn. Producer Gale Anne Hurd. Executive producers David Gale and Van Toffler. Screenplay by Michael Traeger and Mike White; from a story by Anthony Abrams & Adam Larson Broder. Cinematographer John Thomas. Editor Debra Chiate. Costumes Kathleen Detoro. Music Mark Mothersbaugh. Production designer Carol Winstead Wood. Set designer Antoinette Judith Gordon. Set decorator Jan K. Bergstrom. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. Tom Everett Scott as Josh. Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Cooper. Poppy Montgomery as Rachel. Lochlyn Munro as Cliff.