I should have known that something was wrong when I had trouble enticing a friend to see “Orange County,” despite the lure of a free ticket. As the previews rolled, I grew more suspicious. One trailer after another advertised the next wave of melodramatic, teen coming-of-age movies, and then it hit me. I checked my ticket stub and it was clear – Dear God, they’ve duped me into reviewing a PG-13 movie.
Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with a mildly rated film, but when MTV Productions is involved, things can go terribly wrong. In this case, a graduating high school student (Colin Hanks) receives help from his dysfunctional family in gaining admission to Stanford (the definitive goal of his existence) after his application is rejected. Hanks’character, Shaun Brumder, is a reformed surf-bum turned aspiring writer who draws his motivation from a book authored by one of the school’s esteemed professors.
Having survived the college application process, I tried to sympathize, but couldn’t. If you’ve been there, the story is familiar, but annoying. If you haven’t, you won’t appreciate the few real comic elements that are included. Nonetheless, by closing my eyes during any scene that dealt with plot, I found that a few leftovers were quite funny.
Brumder’s semi-psychotic family helped to buoy-up the film. I, like most of my fellow movie-goers, went to “Orange County” to see Jack Black, the wily, troll-like lead singer of folk/rock band Tenacious D, who plays Hanks’ embarrassment of an older brother. Black does a fantastic job playing the stereotypical drug-fried slob one would expect from a movie of this caliber, stumbling around in his greasy tighty-whities and sneaking in a few bites of quality shock-comedy. But even Black fails to steal the show.
The top-prize goes to Catherine O’Hara (“Beetlejuice,” “Home Alone”) who plays Brumder’s wacked-out, alcoholic mother. O’Hara nails the divorced and disheveled suburban mother – still pining for the husband (John Lithgow) who left her – shacking up with a corpse of an older man in order to afford the SUV lifestyle to which she is accustomed.
The film also includes many notable bit parts picked up by Lithgow, Lily Tomlin, Chevy Chase and Harold Ramis, as well as good cameos by Ben Stiller and Kevin Kline. Unfortunately, their best attempts at resuscitation are in vain; this film displays advanced signs of rigor mortis. Ultimately, it is the lead actor and his character’s girlfriend, played by Schuyler Fisk, who bring down the whole show.
Newcomer Colin Hanks, son of Hollywood legend Tom Hanks, comes off as an unbelievable hack. In too many scenes, junior does a poor job at bootlegging his father’s style. Fisk, who plays a sappy, tree-hugging girlfriend, adds to the damage with her performance and the droll sentimental moments her character engenders.
Director Jake Kasdan’s only other feature-length film credit includes “Zero Effect” a fantastic but little-known comedy starring Ben Stiller and Bill Pullman. A master of plot in his debut film, Kasdan fell far short in his second offering. His comically mocking indictment of surf culture and family life in suburbia is on point, and O’Hara makes the most of what little was provided, but in the final analysis, “Orange County” is all rind.