From time to time there are movies that when you look back in retrospect are amazing for how many actors in them went on to Big Time Stardom or at least significant careers. American Graffiti had Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfus, Mackenzie Phillips, Paul LeMat, Charles Martin Smith, and Suzanne Somers. The Outsiders had Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, and Emilio Estevez. Big groups of talent, all in one place, in service well-regarded movies beyond their casts.
Which brings us to 2001's Wet Hot American Summer, a low-budget indie comedy with a cult following that was featured a couple of months back in Entertainment Weekly, marking its 10th anniversary. Check out this cast: Bradley Cooper (Limitless), Paul Rudd and Elizabeth Banks (both in Our Idiot Brother which opened this weekend), Janeane Garofalo (before she became the insane liberal hater she is today), David Hyde Pierce (Niles on Frasier), Christopher Meloni (Law & Order SVU), Amy Poehler and Molly Shannon (SNL), Judah Friedlander (30 Rock), and Michael Ian Black (all those VH1 retrospectives). They all seem to have loved making it and would be open to doing a sequel, but I have to ask one question: Why when the first movie is such a mess?
Set on the last day of summer camp in 1981, WHAS focuses mostly on various pairs of the camp counselors trying to hook up while egregiously ignoring their charges. (So many kids drown on Paul Rudd's non-watch that I'm surprised Camp Firewood didn't spawn more machete-wielding killers than Camp Crystal Lake.) While there are a few narrative threads, most of the film feels like they had index cards with ideas on them like, "Crazy 'Nam vet thinks a can of beans is talking to him; ends up humping a refrigerator," or, "Woman going through a divorce is comforted and finds love with 10-year-old boy." Part of this random non-continuity is deliberate, but some segments feel like they sprinkled PCP on their weed for breakfast and then made movie under the influence. There's a chase which culminates with a single bale of hay in the middle of the road acting as a roadblock which just made me scratch my head. Then there's the scene where the counselors run into town with a montage that starts off with them getting ice cream and beer and then rapidly descends into purse-snatching and shooting smack in a dope house before showing them returning to camp within an hour, none the worse for wear.
I like oddball humor, but too much of Wet Hot American Summer feels like the cast enjoying themselves - hey, it's like Cannonball Run II! - and we're on the outside looking in at all the familiar faces. I'd missed it when it first came out and I was still digging on Janeane (man, she went nuts; so sad) and had always been meaning to catch up on it. Having done so, I'm genuinely baffled at the cult fave regard it's held in. It's simply not that good other than as a good hub film for 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
Score: 3/10. Watch it on a friend's cable so you can both go, "Hey, is that...?"