Wet Hot American Summer (2001) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for strong sexual content, language and a scene of drug use
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Showalter, Marguerite Moreau, Michael Ian Black, Zak Orth, A.D. Miles, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni, Molly Shannon, Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks, Kevin Sussman, Marisa Ryan
Director: David Wain
Screenplay: Michael Showalter, David Wain
Review published December 15, 2006
An amiable send-up of the summer camp films that were popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Wet Hot American Summer strikes me as the kind of film that a small segment of the population will truly get, while the rest will scratch their heads in bewilderment as to just what the makers of the film were trying to do here. I'll admit, I don't completely understand the entire vibe myself, but that also makes the film a fun experience, as the sheer random absurdity among the characters and situations proves too intelligent to think it all made up on the spot. Those familiar with MTV's former sketch comedy show, "The State", will recognize many of the names, faces, and zany style of humor among the cast, including director Wain (Role Models, They Came Together) and screenwriter-star Showalter (The Baxter), who employ a kitchen-sink approach to comedy that, even when they get it wrong, they get it right, just by being so bizarre. If you're looking for a prime example of a cult comedy, this is it.
The film is set in the summer of 1981, on the very last day of the summer camp season for Camp Firewood. Dalliances abound, but the main event for the day is the talent show near the end of the day to send off the camp in grand style.
There isn't really a main star of Wet Hot American Summer, or really a central plot. It plays out more like an intersecting series of skits that revolve around the camp experience, with characters mostly utilized to spoof other films, music, or fashion styles of the early 1980s. The humor is more scattershot than acute, but as previously mentioned, so inventive at times, the absurd nature of them can be infectious if you're willing to give up any pretense of the film ever making complete sense. This is a film where you're along for the ride, or you're thrown out of the van because you don't belong.
Wet Hot American Summer isn't for everyone. In fact, it isn't for most people, as much of the humor will likely be beyond the grasp of "normal" people. I didn't always get it, although sometimes I did (like a training sequence that spoofs such random oddities as Rocky III and "Kung Fu"), and when I did, I appreciated the recognition of the obscurities. When I think about it, given the fact that the main premise revolves around a mini-genre of movies few remember and fewer actually dig, it becomes apparent that the entire comedic thrust of the film is that it is making references to things only a very select few individuals will understand the meaning of. You'll laugh hardest if you get it, smile because you don't -- or you'll just throw up your hands and leave the room, calling this the stupidest comedy you've ever seen. A mindless brainfart comedy, meant strictly for people who find the silliest, stupidest, and most random things hilarious.
©2006 Vince Leo