Maybe it’s the stale residue of so many over-hyped summer movies that causes one to think that, just maybe, there’s something worthwhile in a bleary-eyed goof called “Wet Hot American Summer.” Or maybe it’s nice, once in a while, to come upon a movie that knows it’s nothing special, proves it and doesn’t care so long as its target audience feels good enough to have a refreshing beverage or two afterward.
Don’t misunderstand. The last thing the world needs is a “Meatballs” for the post-millennium. But, alas, we are, all of us, the sum of the movies we saw as kids, even the bad ones. And there are, alas again, a lot of twenty-and thirtysomethings who were of an impressionable age when they saw “Meatballs,” the 1979 slob-slapstick farce about summer camp whose only legitimate claim to film history is that it was Bill Murray’s first starring role.
Two of these folks, Michael Showalter and David Wain, co-wrote “Wet Hot American Summer.” Wain directed it. Neither has done much here to enhance the dubious legacy of 1980s summer camp comedy. Still, as their work with MTV’s “The State” comedy troupe proves, they do know how to hit you in the face with blackout sketches. Most of them miss by a mile. But with something as lowbrow as this, even the flailing away can have a perverse charm--up to a point.
What that point is for you may depend on how much you can relate to the various situations facing Camp Firewood’s staff and patrons on the last day before leaving for home in the summer of 1981. The situation is this: Everybody’s looking for action.
This includes the camp’s no-nonsense honcho (Janeane Garofalo), who’s making goo-goo eyes at a geeky astrophysicist (David Hyde Pierce), who just happens to be vacationing next to the camp and is scared to death that a piece of Skylab’s going to fall on him.
Among the other lovelorn types is Coop (Showalter), a camp counselor who wants to be more than best friends with fellow counselor Katie (Marguerite Moreau), who’s in perpetual lip-lock with studly, stupid lifeguard Andy (Paul Rudd).
So far, so familiar. And “Wet Hot American Summer” revels in the familiarity to such an extent that even its crassness seems like nostalgia for a lost time. A few gags have legs, especially the counselors’ one-hour trip to town that includes shopping and misdemeanors and Molly Shannon as an emotionally shattered divorcee whose psyche is being nursed back to health by her elementary-age arts-and-crafts class.
But even with its tackiness arched at an ironic angle, “Wet Hot American Summer’s” long-term fate is to become at best a last-minute accessory to a Blockbuster night of pizza and beverages.
MPAA rating: R, for strong sexual content, language and a drug sequence.
‘Wet Hot American Summer’
Janeane Garofalo: Beth
David Hyde Pierce: Henry
Michael Showalter: Coop
Marguerite Moreau: Katie
Paul Rudd: Andy
Molly Shannon: Gail
USA Films presents a Eureka Pictures production in association with North Coast Group, released by USA Films. Director David Wain. Producer Howard Bernstein. Screenplay by Michael Showalter & David Wain. Cinematographer Ben Weinstein. Editor Meg Reticker. Costume designer Jill Kliber. Music Theodore Shapiro & Craig Wedren. Production designer Mark White. Art director Bryan Hodge. Set decorator Lisa Crivelli Scoppa. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
Exclusively at the AMC Seven Theatres, 1310 3rd St., Santa Monica, (310) 289-4262.