Monday, March 17, 2008

How I Didn't Get Into How I Got Into College

How I Got Into College is a great title, better than Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer, and yet it's the least of "Savage" Steve Holland's 80s cinematic trilogy. In his defense, he did not write the screenplay, and in the film's defense it's better than average. The watermark was set high by the first two films' stream of consciousness juvenilia which starred the young, unknown John Cusack and sparkled with supporting parts from Curtis Armstrong, Joe Flaherty, Bobcat Goldthwait and all varieties of wacky mugs.

(Scene from One Crazy Summer)

How I Got Into College stars Corey Parker. Big whoop. Aside from some excellent scenes in which Phil Hartman and Nora Dunn play a pair of slickster SAT prep coaches, College is short on the supporting cast that a certain kind of comedy lives or dies on - wherein a put-upon young man's dream is pursued amidst a world of crazies, friends and foes alike.

The most prominent comedic supporting part was given to Charlie "Charles" Rocket, whose career is a historical footnote as the guy who said "fuck" on Saturday Night Live during the first Lorne Michaels-less season. Anthony Edwards and Lara Flynn Boyle round out the circle, and though they're both fine actors they're about as funny as Velveeta. Even in Revenge of the Nerds Edwards was playing straight man to, well, Curtis "Booger" Armstrong, who has but a one-scene cameo.

Savage Steve's voice comes from his background as an animator and that's another thing from the previous two films missing here, animated interludes. Holland's animated sense of humor also allowed for the kind of tangential diversions in comedies I personally love. In Better Off Dead, Cusack daydreams singing hamburgers and encounters cartoon humans like psycho paperboys and Japanese drag racers every other minute.

College sometimes feels as though anything could happen, and then not enough does.

Did the studio mandate Holland's film be less cartoony, the way television executives mandated in the 70s and 80s that cartoons be less cartoony? No wonder he gave up on films for a while to develop Eek! The Cat, one of a few cartoon shows made possible by Ren and Stimpy's merciful minor revival of animated animation (which we've since squandered.) According to IMDB he's making a return to live action features this year, after a 20 year hiatus.

Better Off Dead was released in 1985, the same year as another animator's first live action cartoon...Tim Burton's Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. The cartoon sense of anything being able to happen at any time has gradually been creeping into mainstream tastes ever since. Especially on television, where the gratuitous randomness of Scrubs or Malcolm In The Middle or My Name Is Earl is confused for wit.

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