Friday, January 25, 2002
Orange County / 1/2* (2002)
The recent sudden catastrophe at the movie theater, a common occurrence every year as studios wrap up the releases of their Oscar contenders, began two weeks ago with "Impostor," a sci-fi film conceived in the vein of "Battlefield Earth." Now comes "Orange County," a situational comedy in which the only funny thing is the fact that decent human beings allowed themselves to be associated with it.
The film may have an orange in its title, but it reeks of sour lemons. It's a hectic, dimwitted, tedious and downright malicious insult on the senses, utterly void of inspiration and unrelenting in the way it wastes the acting talents of several big name stars, including newcomer Colin Hanks (the son of Tom Hanks), who looks like a deer caught in the headlights of a speeding car whenever he attempts to act out the pathetic material he is given. Here, Hanks plays Shaun, a bright high school kid with big aspirations of going to college and becoming a famous writer, but one whose path towards that goal is made all the more treacherous by the outward feelings of his friends and family. Eventually, a point arrives in which he has to make a sacrifice. Will it be his family? Will it be his career aim? Will he compromise both in order to make every party happy? Better yet, will any of us even care?
The screenplay is a mesh of fragmented ideas, unfocused intentions and tone-deaf antics that are executed completely without shape. The movie doesn't even seem to be able to decide exactly what it wants to be: a coming-of-age tale, a dysfunctional family story, a teen tearjerker or a combination of the three. It tantalizes us with one property for a brief while, only to abandon it and toss us into a completely different tone without a sense of ease or casualness. All of this results in an ending that occupies every vile cliché possible, in which a decision is reached, uplifting music plays in the background, and those involved in the plot end up cheering or shedding tears of joy. But of course, by that point, any ending to this travesty is better than none at all.
Hanks' character serves as the backbone behind the premise; as the movie opens, he recounts the events in his life that encouraged him to give up his carefree surfing days and turn to writing stories. He submits a manuscript to one of his favorite writers at Stanford based on his own life in Orange County, making notation to the audience (and to a dislodged guidance counselor played by Lily Tomlin) that this is the place he wants to go once high school wraps up. The counselor assures him that his chances are so good at getting in, he won't need to apply to any other schools. However, his application is mistakenly sent in with the wrong transcript and he is denied entry. The movie then spends its time taking Shaun from one ill-fated scheme to another in attempt for him to gain admittance to the university, but almost always, his efforts are thwarted by someone else in his life.
You'll recognize some of these people a little too well. John Lithgow plays Shaun's father, a rich workaholic who doesn't even seem to recognize that he has a son, while Catherine O'Hara plays his mother Cindy, a careless drunk who fears the very thought of her son leaving the county. Meanwhile, Jack Black, an actor who made his claim to fame with "High Fidelity" and later got his first big starring role in "Shallow Hal," plays Shaun's brother Lance, an adolescent deadbeat who spends most of the picture either stoned out of his mind, or walking aimlessly around in his underwear. Once you compare the clean-cut attitude of Shaun to those of these three family members, you can already see how they bring him down.
It's not enough for the movie to mercilessly sabotage the careers of great actors like these; it also has to destroy those that have barely begun. Schuyler Fisk, the daughter of Sissy Spacek who plays Shaun's girlfriend in the movie, makes this one of her first big starring roles (and mistakes) in a motion picture. Ditto for Hanks, who is also relatively new to the scene despite appearing in a couple of his father's other features (most recently Tom's HBO-produced "Band of Brothers").
And what of Jack Black? Oh, how sad it is to be struck down when you've just hit the top of your game! Here is an actor that has the courage and the attitude to carry any role he is given, and yet seldom in the past has he been provided with material adequate enough to truly allow his screen personas to shine. His efforts are wasted here in the same manner as they were in "Saving Silverman"; he comes across as a hopeless, desperate player trying to pump some sort of life into the lackluster plot. The college newspaper I currently work on had the opportunity to interview Black last Friday afternoon over the phone regarding the release of "Orange County," but Paramount's publicity department made some errors in setting up specific time windows, so the interview never happened. Judging by this film, maybe they were too afraid of what some of us might have asked him.
"Orange County" isn't simply a badly made film, but an unfunny, desperate, stupid and incompetent one. Wise moviegoers are advised to finish up seeing all of the Oscar contenders before turning to the inane trash of the new year. And given the fact that the first two major releases of 2002 are both rip-offs, there will undoubtedly be much pain and suffering induced by many of the releases over the next few months.
Written by DAVID KEYES
Cast & Crew info:
Colin Hanks: Shaun Brumder
Schuyler Fisk: Ashley
Catherine O'Hara:Cindy Beugler
Jack Black: Lance Brumder
John Lithgow: Bud Brumder
Lily Tomlin: Guidance counselor
Harold Ramis: Don Durkett
Produced by Scott Aversano, Herb Gains, David Gale, Scott Rudin, Adam Schroeder, Van Toffler; Directed by Jake Kasdan; Screenwritten by Michael White
Comedy (US); Rated PG-13 for drug content, crude language and mild violence; Running Time - 83 Minutes