When you see the cast behind Wet Hot American Summer you can’t help but be disappointed with the end result. There is huge talent within this movie, many of which have gone on to huge things today. Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper and Elizabeth Banks are the stars of note but there are plenty of other faces which you will recognise from many other, more recent TV shows and movies.
The initial idea is a great one too. Taking something that many American kids have been through, summer camp, and mining it for all the clichéd, ridiculous and bizarre interactions you associate with it. Everything is covered here, from talent shows, water sports, competitive games and most important of all for this movie – sex and romance.
There is plenty of great, very clever moments as well. From Paul Rudd’s Andy letting small kids drive a speedboat to a very competitive talent show, with very strange “acts.” There is even spins on the usual clichés; one of the funnier moments being the reaction of two “teenage boys” to the revelation that one of their friends is gay or when a group of kids decide to forgo the usual sports team moment you may find in this kind of film. You can see the talent and writing that has made many of the actors within this stars since.
Some of the better characters aren’t necessarily the “stars.” The kids which make up the cast get some of the best moments, from giving marriage counselling advice to being hilariously abused by the many “teenage” camp councillors. One of the better “adult” characters (at least in the beginning of the movie) is the slightly deranged, Vietnam veteran played by Christopher Meloni. His character is the kind of creative element that works in this movie.
Unfortunately, that quality doesn’t run throughout. There are some very strange moments which don’t work. Rather than stick purely with the idea of a funny, super-charged summer camp, the introduction of talking cans, rogue space satellites and a bizarre end to the talent show take this slightly too far. These moments don’t seem to work as well and just take a step too far into the bizarre.
The movie may have worked better if it tried to play more on the usual teenage romps that had seen a revival. There is a slight feeling of Porky’s about the movie, as well as characters who wouldn’t be too out of place in American Pie or Road Trip. Playing to this kind of audience and mocking this type of movie too would have worked very well.
Instead, what we get is a weak mix of very funny moments with scenes which don’t work and drag poorly. It feels like a bunch of sketches thrown together rather than a cohesive movie and that means that by the hour mark, the film starts to slow and the film stops offering anything new or of any real quality.
Overall, Wet Hot American Summer is a strange time capsule of great Hollywood talent in a lesser known comedy. Moments in the movie reflect this great talent but there are also times when this magic mix doesn’t work and a push towards the bizarre leaves the film plodding and struggling to create the required laughs.
Rating – 2
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