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USA Home Video presents
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)

Lindsay: Hey, what're you writing on?Andy: My gournal. I write my thoughts in it every day.Lindsay: Oh, you mean a journal.Andy: Yeah, whatever. Guess I'm not all smart like you.
- Elizabeth Banks, Paul Rudd

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: February 08, 2002

Stars: Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Molly Shannon, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni, Michael Showalter
Other Stars: Marguerite Moreau, Ken Marino, Michael Ian Black, Zak Orth, A.D. Miles, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Marisha Ryan, Kevin Sussman, Joe Lo Truglio, Elizabeth Banks
Director: David Wain

MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, language, and a drug sequence
Run Time: 01h:36m:22s
Release Date: January 15, 2002
UPC: 696306031420
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-B+B- B+

DVD Review

Wet Hot American Summer is equal parts parody and absurdist sketch-comedy. The target seems to be trashy teen movies from the late 1970s and early '80s—mindless, formulaic pap like Meatballs, G.O.R.P., Porky's, Midnight Madness, and even the familiar formula of The Bad News Bears—brainless comedies consisting mostly of strung together stock characters and "titillating" nudity gags. Co-writers David Wain and Michael Showalter dissect these films, though they seem already so inane as to be self-parodying, and when viewed through the skewed perspectives of these two oddballs, the material becomes transcendent. Wet Hot American Summer is not just a spoof, but an inspired deconstruction of an entire generation of films and moviegoers, the last gasp of "innocent" humor before the teen comedy became equivalent with irony (a.k.a. John Hughes). All this, and a scene where a grown man humps a fridge. I know, I know. It all begins on August 18, 1981, the last day of summer camp, but the plot is impossible to describe (and largely inconsequential). We follow the adventures of the camp counselors as they move throughout the day, and what's brilliant about the screenplay is the way Showalter and Wain manage to balance about five different storylines, each taking on the flavor of a different, oddly familiar teen movie cliché. There's Coop (Showalter), the nice guy in love with the nice girl, Katie (Moreau), who of course only has eyes for the hot bad boy (Paul Rudd, in a glorious, scene-stealing performance). There's the romance between camp director Beth (Garofalo) and timid teacher Henry (Pierce). There's the unpopular, nerdy group of campers ("the 'indoor' kids") who are called on to save the day with science. And the horny trio always watching the girls, and the self-conscious stud looking to get laid, and on and on. These segments are funny because they follow familiar conventions, but also because, in doing so, they illustrate the way that these situations, once the stuff of "raunchy" teen films, seem almost quaint in hindsight—take the scenes where the "let's go to town" montage turns into a binge of muggings, drinking, and drugs, proving how tame the 1980s were by jaded 2001 standards. Not since The Brady Bunch Movie has a satire so effectively deconstructed its source material. Pretensions aside, Wet Hot American Summer works because it is an uproarious comedy. Standout bits include Chris Meloni as the frazzled camp cook, a Vietnam vet who isn't all there. It is he who does the aforementioned fridge-humping, but not before he terrorizes his fellow counselors and converses with a talking can of mixed vegetables. Molly Shannon is surprisingly funny as an emotional arts and crafts counselor who uses her campers as therapy. And Garofalo and Pierce, playing their characters as earnest and sincere to the max, are equally funny and, somehow, sweet: even this film is not devoid of heart.I'm of the opinion that nothing is more subjective than humor; and certainly, certainly, this one is not for all tastes. But here's the barometer: is it funny that Meloni, trying to unite young lovers, gives Showalter a Flashdance-style makeover, turning him into "Super Coop," which means, basically, that he's the same guy with a headband and a cutoff belly shirt? If no, why? Rent it anyway.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: WHAS looks surprisingly good for a low budget film. Overall, fine detail is very good, though a few scenes look somewhat soft. Colors look bright and saturated for the most part. Some aliasing shows in just one or two shots, but no artifacts are visible. Surprisingly, grain isn't much of a problem, nor is print damage in general. Black level is adequate, and shadow detail is above average. A nice presentation of limiting materials.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in English stereo only, but I doubt a 5.1 mix would've made much of a difference anyway. Dialogue is very strongly presented for the most part, but at times, ADR betrays itself with somewhat unnatural placement in the mix. The rock soundtrack fills out the front soundstage, sounds clear, and is well integrated into the mix. There are a few directional effects across the front soundstage (things breaking offscreen), but nothing major, and the surrounds are totally mute throughout. Overall, this is an adequate mix, if a bit rough at times.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English Closed Captioned Only with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
27 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director/co-writer David Wain, co-writer Michael Showalter, actress Janeane Garofalo
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:10m:28s

Extra Extras:
  1. Cast Comments: Interviews with the Cast
  2. Songs with Production Stills
  3. Alternate Soundtrack with Extra Farts
Extras Review: I love it when an undiscovered gem of a film is released on DVD with a great extras package. It's always a nice surprise. Wet Hot American Summer certainly is a welcome one; there's a lot here, and most of it is definitely worth a look.The commentary track with director David Wain, co-writer Michael Showalter, and actress Janeane Garofalo is a lot of fun. The three were recorded together, and the track has a great conversational feel. There's a lot of pointing out of favorite jokes and mistakes, as well as some very funny stories from the set. Garofalo's dry wit is present in full force, and she makes her first commentary track a memorable one. There's a deleted scenes montage, which runs about 12 minutes and contains, from what I can tell, roughly 28 scenes or alternate takes, is full of material both funny and baffling. Some of the scenes are improvisations or extra snippets that were cut for time; others are full of absurd in-jokes that would've no doubt confused audience members. My favorite is the alternate ending, a longer cut of the "10 years later" scene that provides a better look at the counselors' future selves and the contents of a videotape only hinted at in the main feature. Optional commentary is offered for these scenes that explains why they were excised. The behind-the-scenes montage runs 15 minutes and is a neat look at the difficulties of producing a film set in the middle of summer during one of the coldest, rainiest springs in Pennsylvania history. It's unbelievable that the picture looks as good as it does. You won't believe how muddy everything was for most of the shoot, the final product hides it very well. There's also a lot of footage of the actors and director goofing off, on and off the set, and preparing some of the more difficult scenes, like those featuring lots of underage extras. A gallery of cast and crew interviews features comments from eight of the actors. The entire gallery runs just over eight minutes. This material is a few steps above the usual PR comments and provides yet more on-set info. The soundtrack's four original songs are integrated into a still gallery of over 80 images, and each is selectable separately. Unfortunately, this section is not time-coded, and you cannot pause, rewind, or fast-forward. Lastly, there's a trailer in widescreen and fairly extensive bios for almost the entire cast and crew. Nice job! And what disc would be complete without the alternate soundtrack with extra farts? Apparently not this one. Never was there a more self-explanatory feature, and, oddly enough, as low-brow as it is, this option is good for a laugh, if only because the inanity of its inclusion as an extra approaches an almost Dadaist level of random idiocy.One beef, though—why no subtitles? Captions are ok, but all DVDs should include true subs as well. Grr. Argh. Despite this problem, I really love the supplements on this disc, and the grade is a bit higher than such a package would usually warrant, if only because I found them all very worthwhile. Or as worthwhile as a "more farting" track can be. Which is, in my book, "very."

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

A combination of parody and outright randomness, Wet Hot American Summer is as funny and ingenious a lightweight comedy as I've seen in quite some time. A great choice for a large get-together, and guaranteed to further endear itself to you with each viewing. Of course, nothing is more subjective than humor, and this picture certainly has its share of detractors. But while they rattle on about how it is sloppy or lowbrow (thanks, Roeper, you can re-watch Shallow Hal instead), I will again bask in the glow of this unsung pop triumph. And whenever I'm sad, all I have to do is think of that lonely Vietnam vet, finding the courage inside himself to be true to his heart—and, yes, hump that fridge!—and I'll know that my heart will go on. Laughing, anyway. Hopefully pumping blood too. Eek.

 


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