The Films of Broken Lizard
Super Troopers (February 22/02)
Seemingly inspired by the wacky comedies of the '80s - Police Academy having the most influence - Super Troopers begins well enough, but doesn't have enough plot or successful jokes to keep it afloat. The film revolves around five fun-loving State Highway police officers, whose primary jurisdiction is the 50 miles of road near the Vermont/Canada border. When they're not messing with folks they've pulled over (example: in one of the funnier sequences, one troopers bets another that he can't say "meow" ten times while handing out a ticket), they're getting into turf wars with the local cops - led by Seinfeld alum Daniel Von Bargen (Mr. Kruger). Super Troopers' successful jokes are sporadic but surprisingly funny; there are a number of genuine guffaws to be had, but the problem is the chasm-sized gap in between the laughs. The various hijinks and shenanigans launched by the troopers provide the bulk of the film, but without any real character development, boredom sets in fairly quickly. Unlike Police Academy, there's no central character worth caring about (ie Steve Guttenberg's Mahoney, who was nutty, sure, but at least he was developed to a point where the audience was rooting for him), which means the movie has to rely solely on the thinly-spread pranks. Having said that, the cast is surprisingly effective and well-cast. As the trooper in charge, Brian Cox brings a decent amount of gravity and realism to this character. Members of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe (who also wrote the film) play the five troopers, and while they are kind of engaging (albeit in an extraordinarily wacky way), it never quite becomes entirely possible to differentiate between the characters. Super Troopers is ultimately overrun by its various flaws, and cult possibilities aside, the movie doesn't really have a whole lot to offer the majority of viewers.
Club Dread (February 29/04)
In the otherwise interminable Club Dread, there's one sequence that stands out. Bill Paxton, playing a Jimmy Buffett knockoff named Coconut Pete, has just finished entertaining a small group in front of a campfire. After the applause dies down, one drunken fan makes the mistake of repeatedly requesting "Margaritaville" - even after Pete insists he didn't write that song. Following a few more pleas from the unknowing admirer, Coconut Pete storms off, muttering "son of a son of a bitch" under his breath. The rest of Club Dread, comedy troupe Broken Lizard's follow-up to Super Troopers, is completely disposable. The film, which concerns a masked murderer on the loose at a Club Med-esque resort, plays out like a both a slasher flick and a parody of slasher flicks - and works on neither level. Inspired by flicks like Sleepaway Camp and the first Friday the 13th, the Broken Lizard gang evidently forgot that movies of that ilk are terrible. The performances are fine, but the story is just so dull that nothing can save it (the almost complete lack of laughs doesn't help either).
While undoubtedly a vast improvement over Broken Lizard's previous effort, Club Dread, Beerfest ultimately suffers from precisely the same sort of problems that have plagued all of their films (ie it's uneven, overlong, and generally free of guffaws). This time around, the five-man comedy troupe travels to Germany - where they must compete in a secret drinking competition to restore the honor of one of their own. As expected, Beerfest is rife with exceedingly silly gags and over-the-top bits of comedy - yet, as has long-since become clear, there's not a whole lot here worth embracing for those not tuned into their very specific brand of humor. There is, consequently, no overlooking the egregiously low joke-to-laugh ratio, although it's hard not to find some value in the ingenious casting of Jurgen Prochnow as the film's villain (particularly given the inclusion of a clever Das Boot reference). The bloated running time (110 minutes!) certainly doesn't do the film any favors, as the light-hearted and inoffensive vibe invariably gives way to a far more oppressive atmosphere (ie some of this stuff just becomes flat-out repetitive). The Broken Lizard gang admittedly possesses oodles of potential and it's entirely likely that they'll one day craft a hilarious, thigh-slapping comedy, but Beerfest certainly isn't it.
The Slammin' Salmon
The Slammin' Salmon represents the latest in a long line of sporadically funny yet hopelessly uneven endeavors from the Broken Lizard comedy troupe, with the film's progressively over-the-top sensibilities inevitably (and ultimately) negating its variety of positive attributes (including an opening half hour that's surprisingly watchable). Set entirely within the confines of a seafood restaurant, the movie follows several waiters (including Erik Stolhanske's Guy, Cobie Smulders' Tara, and Jay Chandrasekhar's Nuts) as they attempt to out-earn each other over the course of one very long night (with first prize a cash payment of $10,000). There's little doubt that The Slammin' Salmon fares best in its early scenes, as the movie boasts an easy-going atmosphere that generally compensates for the lack of laughs within Broken Lizard's frenetic screenplay (and it's impossible to deny the effectiveness and frequently hilarious nature of Michael Clarke Duncan's turn as the dim-witted yet hot-tempered owner of said seafood restaurant.) The affable vibe can carry the proceedings only so far, however, with the increased, almost aggressive emphasis on eye-rollingly broad elements inevitably transforming the movie into a rather interminable piece of work (ie the film's likeable attributes are slowly but surely crushed beneath the weight of Broken Lizard's less-than-subtle approach). The end result is a terminally erratic effort that might hold some appeal for fans of Broken Lizard's extremely specific comedic sensibilities, although it's getting to the point where one can't help but wish the gang would open up their films to a wider audience.
Broken Lizard Stands Up
Super Troopers 2 (May 14/18)
As erratic and underwhelming as its predecessor, Super Troopers 2 follows the title characters as they happily come out of forced retirement to establish a new Highway Patrol station near the American/Canadian border - with the gang's efforts stymied by combative mounties and a mysterious villain. There's little doubt that Super Troopers 2 actually gets off to an impressively auspicious start, as the the movie opens with a fun and frequently hilarious dream sequence that is, unfortunately, not representative of the hit-and-miss narrative to come - with the film's midsection suffused with overlong and flat-out unfunny comedic interludes. And although there are a handful of exceptions to this (eg the revelation that Kevin Heffernan's Farva swallows his M&M's whole), Super Troopers 2, perhaps predictably, feels as though it's been stitched together out of less-than-polished sketch concepts to form a progressively tedious feature - which ensures, certainly, that the picture grows less and less interesting as it slowly progresses. (The somewhat interminable climactic stretch is especially ineffective, to be sure.) It's a shame, really, given that the various Broken Lizard members come off as charismatic and affable, for the most part, with the movie ultimately rarely as much fun to watch as it surely was to make (which is true of almost every single Broken Lizard production to date, really).