So many “serious” movies these days are no-brainers that a movie like “Encino Man” (citywide) is almost refreshing. At least it’s upfront about being a no-brainer.
Is it as enjoyably dopey as “Wayne’s World”? Not really. There’s nothing here to match the ineffable nerdiness of Mike Myers’ Wayne and Dana Carvey’s Garth. Those guys are the Cheech and Chong for the cable-TV ‘90s generation--gee-whiz dudesters who jangle to each other’s dorky rhythms. The difference between Wayne and Garth and an earlier subspecies of nerd is that they are self-aware enough to trick their nerdiness into a personal style.
The buddies in “Encino Man"--Dave (Sean Astin) and Stoney (played by MTV “personality” Pauly Shore)--are a clunkier duo. They’re more like the typical “losers” of standard teen-pic fare; Dave pines for a high school heartthrob (Megan Ward) while Stoney, to the extent that his dude-speak can be deciphered, cooks up hare-brained schemes. Their luck changes when they accidentally excavate a caveman while digging out a pool in Dave’s back yard. Unthawed and nicknamed Link (Brendan Fraser), their new discovery becomes their best buddy and protector.
The best joke in the movie is that Link, with his dreadlocked hair and grunty, subverbal good-naturedness, is automatically certified the buffest (i.e. coolest) guy in high school. Girls love him and bullies try to knock him down. His cave paintings are like ornate graffiti. In the prefab Valley culture, Link is hip because he’s so elemental . He’s marvelously unkempt, and his Neanderthal lope and glassy-eyed gaze connect him with a different variety of cave people--the hippies. Even though this movie conspicuously avoids any mention of drugs, Link--like Stoney--seems perpetually, blissfully high. They seem to communicate in a kind of goofball code that spans eons.
There are a lot of funny ideas in “Encino Man” that don’t come off because the director, Les Mayfield, and his screenwriter, Shawn Schepps, don’t seem to have made up their minds how smart they want to be. A scene like Link freaking out during a visit to the La Brea tar pits museum should count for a lot more than it does here. The film would be better if it were more subversive, more in the “Saturday Night Live” mode. Compared to an “SNL” routine like “Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer,” “Encino Man” (rated PG) is much too tame. No doubt this tameness is a commercial strategy but it’s limiting.
Young audiences are open to a looser, hipper comedy than they’ve been getting in the movies. Shouldn’t movies be more outrageous than television?
Sean Astin: Dave Morgan
Brendan Fraser: Link
Pauly Shore: Stoney Brown
Megan Ward: Robyn Sweeney
A Hollywood Pictures presentation in association with Touchwood Pacific Partners I. Director Les Mayfield. Producer George Zaloom. Executive producer Hilton Green. Screenplay by Shawn Schepps. Cinematographer Robert Brinkmann. Editor Eric Sears. Costumes Marie France. Music J. Peter Robinson. Production design James Allen. Set decorator Cheryal Kearney. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.