Orange County

on January 11, 2002 by Christine James
   Director Jake Kasdan is renowned filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan's son and the helmer of 1998's subtle and giddily clever “Zero Effect.” Scripter Mike White recently came to the fore with his acclaimed pitch-black comedy “Chuck and Buck.” Star Colin Hanks is the son of the Academy Award-winning box-office behemoth of the same surname, and co-star Schuyler Fisk is the daughter of fellow Oscar owner Sissy Spacek. Expectations for a project with such pedigreed talent might make one wonder why the film is being sold as a Jack Black burlesque. Surely commercials depicting the portly, wild-eyed, unkempt comic actor running around in his underwear and hurling himself into swimming pools are undermining the finesse and wit the comedy must obviously possess.

   Disappointingly, “Orange County's” humor is far too reliant on Black's stoner character causing an anything-that-can-go-wrong-will chain of events, mostly while clad in nothing more than his unflattering tighty-whiteys.

   Black, whose incisive comedic instincts displayed in “High Fidelity” and HBO's “Mr. Show With Bob and David” are becoming much misused in mainstream farces, plays Lance, brother of aspiring writer Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks). Shaun's surfer dude persona belied his intellectual genius until he shunned his slackerly ways after coming across a life-changing “Catcher in the Rye”-type book. With his high school graduation impending, Shaun is looking forward to a collegiate career at Stanford University, studying under the author of the transforming tome. However, his plans fall apart when a ditzy school administrator (Lily Tomlin) mistakenly sends the wrong transcripts with Shaun's application. His dysfunctional family inadvertently further foils his ambitions, yet Shaun for some reason permits pill-popping Lance to drive him and his earnestly supportive girlfriend Ashley (Fisk) at breakneck speed across California in a last-ditch effort to gain entry to Stanford. Instead, Shaun ends up accidentally giving he dean of admissions Ecstasy while his brother manages to strip down (again) and burn down a wing of the school.

   Hanks is an amiable hero, if you like Matthew Broderick, who seems much likelier than Tom as a DNA match--right down to the “Ferris Bueller”-era mannerisms. For a tyro thespian with the pressure of his paternity preceding him, Hanks carries his lead role with confident ease (even if he cops a previous teen icon's identity to do so). Hip supporting players like Black, Catherine O'Hara, John Lithgow and Harold Ramis raise the amusement level of otherwise routine proceedings, and Fisk is appealing as an atypical love interest who's quirky and intelligent--which is what “Orange County” should have been. Starring Colin Hanks, Jack Black, Schuyler Fisk, Catherine O'Hara and John Lithgow. Directed by Jake Kasdan. Written by Mike White. Produced by Scott Rudin, Van Toffler, David Gale and Scott Aversano. A Paramount release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for drug content, language and sexuality. Running time: 81 min

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