Director: David Wain
Cast: Michael Showalter, Janeane Garofalo, Marguerite Moreau, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Marisa Ryan, Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio, Michael Ian Black, Molly Shannon, Zak Orth, A.D Miles
Plot: It’s the last day of summer and with hormones raging, it inevitably turns into a day of chaos.
Wet Hot American Summer started as one of those movies that I couldn’t believe I was only getting around to watching now. With an interstellar cast before they became massive, some of them in bit parts like Elizabeth Banks and Bradley Cooper, it boasts a great roster of comedians. However, the closer the film gets to its end, the more it runs out of ideas and evolves into a farcical load of nonsense.
For a long while, the humour was pretty top notch. Wet Hot American Summer walks the line of comedy in its own right and amusing parody very well, so for a lot of the time, you can never tell who the jokes are aimed at. It means that it can poke fun at the genre of American Summer camp movies, but at the same time, fall back onto a movie of its own right. For example, parody films like Scary Movie rarely have characters, that aren’t based on original creations in some way, that can be retained in the memory. You are laughing at Anna Faris or Charlie Sheen, not their characters. With Wet Hot American Summer, we have a whole array of original and creative characters, including a cook suffering from PTSD after the Vietnam war and Molly Shannon’s emotional trainwreck of a divorcee. However, it also has the ability to suddenly break from its own rules and become an unstoppable force of comedy madness. One scene where the kids escape from the camp for a quick trip into the city is so unpredictable and crazy that it is impossible not to laugh out loud. There is also a motorbike chase that is purposefully filmed terribly. The cast and director might overcook the moment, but it will have you sniggering throughout. Sadly, it is that brand of humour that ends up overpowering the rest of the film. For a long while, it is silly but meticulous in its laughs. Someone is always in control. The ending cannot have the same said for it. A plotline where a stray piece of debris from space is making a collision course for the camp crops up. One scene where two counsellors, Janeane Garofalo and Joe Lo Truglio, freak out because Ken Marino has abandoned a group of kids in some rapids, is far too over-the-top, as they panickly rush around the camp, smashing everything in their sight. Is it supposed to be over-extending the drama of the moment to stupidly melodramatic? It feels more like the director has decided on a whim what would be funny and is treating his talented comedians like puppets, rather than clever tools. As a result, Wet Hot American Summer becomes both that underappreciated source of jokes, yet an understandable flop in the box office.
It still worth a recommendation, even if it is just to see the cast rise above the material. There are a good handful of actors here and they clearly love what they are doing. The best of the bunch is easily Paul Rudd, who is turning into one of the more amusing actors in the comedy circle right now. Usually, he plays his funny men subdued, aiming for dry humour over all-out comedy, but he makes an exception here. Rudd plays Andy, the camp jock, so wrapped up in his own sense of cool that he has no idea what is happening with the rest of the plot. One scene where he is forced to clean up after himself by the camp director is easily the funniest thing in the movie. The camera just holds a shot on Rudd and lets him do his thing, over-acting yet perfectly achieving my personal highlight of the show. When the main story is missing the mark, look out for the smaller jokes given to the supporting cast, like Paul Rudd. An ongoing story where he ‘disposes’ of witnesses to his incomptence is exactly the tone of comedy that I wanted from Wet Hot American Summer. The other highlight in the cast is Amy Poehler as the dance choreographer for the talent show. Poehler is another performer that the director seems confident enough to just let do her thing, which result in a terrific punchline when the talent show finally comes around and her dance troupe steps up to the stage. There are several moments in Wet Hot American Summer, where you cannot help but sense the missed potential. Christopher Meloni has a great character in the chef, but the story wastes him on a silly storyline. Elizabeth Banks is mis-used as a pretty piece of eye-candy and little more. If only there was a TV series out there that could properly develop these characters…
Final Verdict: The cast are game and a few jokes are worth the watch, but overall, Wet Hot American Summer has no idea what it is doing.