Orange County

Movie Information

Score:

Genre: Comedy
Director: Jake Kasdan
Starring: Colin Hanks, Jack Black, Schuyler Fisk, Catherine O'Hara, John Lithgow, Harold Ramis
Rated: PG-13

This movie is what happens when you put the son of director Lawrence Kasdan, the son of Tom Hanks and the daughter of Sissy Spacek (Schuyler Fisk) together. It’s known as being “connected,” in the Hollywood lexicon. It’s how you line up a supporting cast that reads like a Who’s Who of comedy — Catherine O’Hara, John Lithgow, Harold Ramis, Chevy Chase, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Kline — and that doesn’t even take into account a guest bit for director Garry Marshall and a fleeting appearance by Ben Stiller. (There’s more than a slight irony to the fact that the script calls for a sequence where the hero’s girlfriend coerces a friend to get her grandfather to pull some strings to get the hero what he wants.) Yessir, these kids are connected — and that’s a mixed blessing, since it makes it all too easy to dismiss Orange County as a vanity vehicle for rich Hollywood brats. There’s some justification for that take, but the truth is Orange County — while far from a masterpiece — isn’t a bad little movie, even if its attempts at subversive comedy ultimately wind up housed in a dysfunctional “back in your own backyard” plot. That may not be a wholly bad thing, since Orange County is a little too by-the-numbers — not to mention dubiously judged — in the outrageousness department. Shaun Brumbder (Hanks) is interchangeable with any number of movie teens suffering from movie angst, owing to an embarrassingly unbalanced movie family — including alcoholic mom (Catherine O’Hara), druggie brother (Jack Black) and estranged dad (John Lithgow). The actors manage to make these types fairly engaging, but they’re still types. Worse, some of their antics — especially those of O’Hara’s drunken mom character — derive humor from situations that are more distressing than funny. The upshot that Shaun not only loves and accepts these characters, but draws inspiration from them for his writing, is morally specious if you stop to examine it. However, the movie isn’t sufficiently deep — and is far too goofy — to bother blasting it too hard for subtexts it’s unlikely anyone involved intended. Orange County is basically a silly film with a contrived premise and a badly wrapped plot. After a life-changing experience involving the death of one of his stoner-surfer buddies and his discovery of a book by Marcus Skinner (Kevin Kline), Shaun Brumbder decides that he wants to be a writer. He directs all his energies into this course, despite his father’s disapproval (“Why do you want to be a writer? You aren’t oppressed. You aren’t gay”). His dream of going to Stanford to study under Skinner is shattered when inept guidance counselor Lily Tomlin sends the wrong transcript to the school. The plot exists solely to showcase Hanks and Schuyler in a series of comic vignettes propped up by “old” pros and the truly subversive comedic talents of Jack Black, who is well on his way to proving himself the most outrageous and least self-conscious performer of his generation. The heavy-hitter talents employed in the supporting roles are often fun, especially Harold Ramis as Stanford’s Dean of Admissions (who accidentally ingests a healthy dose of speed,) but Black is the true driving force of the film. From the moment he appears onscreen — hungover and blissfully barfing on Shaun’s latest literary effort — Black takes command of the film. Any actor — especially one with Black’s hefty build — willing to spend a large chunk of a movie parading around in ill-fitting, unclean underwear (often in search of a urine sample from Shaun to fob off on his probation officer) is worthy of note in the sheer chutzpah department. But there’s more to Black than nerviness. His wicked leer, his impeccable timing, his casual outrageousness to one side, Black has the knack of never seeming less than real and oddly appealing. The movie may be on shaky ground a lot of the time, but Black isn’t, and he alone makes Orange County something more than the standard teen flick it otherwise would have been.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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