National Lampoon Presents: Surf Party (2013)

Their photoshop guy was off sick that day

Their photoshop guy was off sick that day

I feel like I’m in some sort of Emperor’s New Clothes situation with this movie, where it screams comedy from the cover and promotional material, but it’s just not funny at all. Am I actually in a conformity experiment? If I say “well, it was pretty funny” will a buzzer sound and footage of me be used in a TV show?

For those of you who see “National Lampoon” attached to the front of a film but have never bothered to find out about it, it was a satirical magazine that ran from 1970 to 1998. Genuinely boundary-pushing at its best, it started many great careers and its stage / radio spinoffs featured most of the original “Saturday Night Live” cast. But the films it put its name to is where it probably found the most fame – from “Animal House” to the “Vacation” series.

At some point, a little before the magazine shut up shop for good, the name was sold and then became a thing you could licence for a one-off fee, because those early films were such big hits the effects can still be felt today. This explains the sheer volume of National Lampoon movies – check out these titles and see what past 1995’s “Senior Trip” (which I quite liked) fills you with anything but dread.

All this goes to explain what a thoroughly bizarre experience “Surf Party” was. Past the first five minutes, there’s no surfing and no parties; and not only is not funny, at all, but there aren’t even bits where jokes are supposed to be. It’s a fairly low-key coming-of-age drama, with a couple of OTT performances bolted on, and has the biggest bummer of an ending.

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Yet more not-talking-about-the-film: this is, I discover, a repackaged version of “Endless Bummer”, which was released in 2009. To whoever decided to do this: this is why people pirate movies. Because you, the people who make these films, are awful money-grubbing assholes who deserve to be left destitute for trying to basically defraud movie fans.

The plot? A kid is paying for a surfboard in installments from master board-maker Mooney, and then the first day he takes it out, he loses it on a big wave and then it gets stolen; clearly, he’s been mentioning this board to everyone he meets, because everyone, no matter how tangentially related, asks him “hey man, where’s your board?” So, he and his two friends, Lardo (who’s not fat at all, which might be a joke) and Sparky go to get it back, which they do with relatively little incident, then on the way back the board falls out of the back of their car and is crushed by another car which seems to swerve deliberately to break it. The end.

Top-billed, but clearly just hired for a day to elevate this “film”, are people like Matthew Lillard, Joan Jett, Jane Leeves, Vanessa Angel and Lee Ving. But the performance that clued me in to the non-2013 filming was Allison Scagliotti, from TV show “Warehouse 13”. She’s only 24 now, and looks a great deal younger in this; also, it’s just weird seeing the punky hipster girl from TV as a bikini-clad hottie. She’s very obviously a great deal older in 2013’s “Chastity Bites”, which we loved.

I think this film would have been far better served by dropping the National Lampoon title and selling itself as a little indie comedy-drama about growing up in the mid-80s. It’s the expectation of comedy that’s so jarring; as an example, Sparky is the wild-card best friend, but his wildness is played as a fairly severe mental illness and not normal adolescent over-excitement. Then there’s the ending. Oh my god! As star JD carries his broken board to the beach to throw it into the ocean, we get the 30 years later voiceover which has bored us throughout the film telling us what happened to the characters. Most of them have happy family lives, although why the film feels the need to tell us this in such excruciating detail is never really mentioned. But in the middle of these happy tales, we find out Sparky died a short time after the film was set. What the hell is wrong with these people?

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I’d genuinely like to ask the people who made this what they were going for. Did someone with the rights to the National Lampoon name buy an unreleased surfing movie, sight unseen, to exploit for a few dollars? Was this three-quarters made as a completely different sort of film, then stopped due to lack of funds, and bought up by someone who whacked an awful voiceover on it and just shoved it out into the world? Or did someone genuinely think that “From National Lampoon, the masters of raunchy comedy, comes a summer tale of beers, babes, and bros!” was a realistic way to describe this?

I’ve just got no idea. Even ignoring the lack of jokes or funny situations in this comedy, it’s really not that good a film. The stakes are so low as to be virtually nonexistent and aside from Scagliotti it’s populated by nasty stupid caricatures. Avoid both versions of this at all costs.

Rating: thumbs down

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