Wet Hot American Summer

on July 27, 2001 by Annlee Ellingson
What begins as a light little send-up of the summer camp comedies of the '70s and '80s-- in which first loves between teens spark in romantic locations far from home but are destined to end on the last day of camp--escalates to absurdity in the third act, spoofing everything from cop thrillers to car chases to those movies about misfit sports teams that beat the odds.

   It's the day of the big talent show at Camp Firewood in 1981--the last hurrah before campers and counselors alike board the buses to go home--and there are bits of unfinished business to resolve all over camp. Beth (Janeane Garofalo), the camp director, finally gets up the nerve to approach Professor Neumann (David Hyde Pierce), an astrophysics geek who's been summering in a cabin near the camp. After initially turning her down, he agrees to donate his time to the kids, walking into the camp cafeteria and asking, "Where are the sci-fi, nerdy, indoor kids?", and offering to spend the rest of the day with them doing science projects. Happy to be separated from the rest of the campers, the outcasts discover that a piece of NASA's Skylab is hurtling toward Camp Firewood, and they endeavor to save their peers without instigating mass panic and confusion.

   Meanwhil e, gay Ben (Bradley Cooper) and spastic Susie (Amy Poehler) rehearse for the talent show; Andy (Paul Rudd) cheats on Katie (Marguerite Mareau) with Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks) while the kids he's supposed to be lifeguarding drown (he then dumps the witnesses on a dirt road off camp grounds); Katie flirts with Coop (Michael Showalter), who calls his parents to tell them he's met a girl and that he thinks it might be serious; Victor (Ken Marino) abandons his campers on a raft in the river in a futile effort to lose his closeted virginity, and his buddy Neil (Joe Lo Truglio) chases him down on a stolen motorcycle; Gene (Christopher Meloni), the cook who served in Vietnam and is prone to muttering things like "I'm going to go smear mud on my ass," finds inner peace through a talking can of vegetables; recently divorced Gail (Molly Shannon) practices role-playing with her supportive arts-and-crafts students; and Katie teaches Beth how to be hot by introducing her to mousse.

   Silly and self-aware, "Wet Hot American Summer" first elicits chuckles at such throwaway lines as "Meet me at the picnic table in 10 seconds," then belly laughs as the action expands to such a preposterous scale that the counselors escape to town and drink beer, smoke pot, snort cocaine, rob little old ladies and end up wasted on the filthy floor of a crack house, all in the space of an hour, returning as cheery and chipper as ever. And at the end, just when its seems all the loose ends have been tied up, Hollywood-style, the film regroups, opting to push the envelope just a little further. Best of all, the actors look like they're having a good time doing it. Starring Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd, Michael Showalter, Marguerite Mareau and Molly Shannon. Directed by David Wain. Written by David Wain and Michael Showalter. Produced by Howard Bernstein. A USA release. Comedy. Not yet rated. Running time: 97 min

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