Broken Lizard, the comedy troupe consisting of Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, and Erik Stolhanske, formed at university in 1990, is about to break some records for the most popular movie Kickstarter of all time for the sequel to this movie. They seem genuinely good people, and are interested in making comedy without focus group or studio interference, starting off by personally touring their first movie “Puddle Cruiser” to college campuses and so on; but does this admirable desire for independence translate into great comedy?
The rather flimsy hook they hang this movie is the five guys are State Troopers in Vermont, and spend their days playing pranks on each other, playing pranks on the people they pull over, and generally behaving in a fine and fun manner. It feels different to other comedies almost immediately, because although they’re playing characters (slightly more senior guy, rookie, horny everyman, crazy guy, OTT outsider) their off-screen friendship and comfort with each other comes through in every scene. The pranks – like trying to say “meow” ten times during a routine traffic stop, trying to fool the other troopers by speeding past them in an impounded sports car, stuffing the new guy into a locker and filling it with shaving cream, and so on – aren’t wildly funny per se, it’s that they’re done with such pure joy and abandon it’s hard not to laugh along with the people on screen.
The plot is about drug smugglers, sort of, but it’s never really that important. They seem to have dropped this in later movies, but one got the feeling they were desperate to put jokes in, whether they fit or not, which is how it should be (sometimes, at least). Rewatching it, years after falling in love with it, though, made me wish they’d concentrated a little harder on polishing those jokes, though.
I feel like I’m betraying something important here – I happily put this movie on for my wife, as she’s never seen it, sitting there like a proud father…and it just didn’t land. I laughed, hard, a few times, but even though it was a nice world to hang out in for a few hours, not many people would prefer “nice” over “funny” when it came to a comedy movie with a pretty flimsy plot. It feels like a loose sitcom more than a movie we’re expected to drop £££ on. Brian Cox, as the one big name they could afford, is great though.
But it’s not all bad news, and the good news is they’re all decent actors. They make the characters into real-feeling people (sadly, not hilarious real-feeling people) and to help illustrate this, here’s a brief recap of their other filmed output:
PUDDLE CRUISER (1996) – Most college comedies are drug / raunch-filled, and this certainly had those elements, but it also established the Broken Lizard laid-back comic style. They did remarkably well on a tiny budget and a cast filled with their friends and family.
CLUB DREAD (2004) – slasher movie parody set at a beach / island resort. The power dynamics of the cast of “Super Troopers” alters here, as Chandrasekhar, the closest thing to a star that movie had, having the smallest part of this one. It’s well-directed, looks great, and Bill Paxton is excellent as their one big name (it seems like they manage one per movie), but it’s hard to shake the feeling that they think they’re funnier than anyone else does; and the plot becomes central, like anyone needs another damn parody of slasher movies.
BEERFEST (2006) – I think this is probably their best. More of a budget, strong supporting cast (MC Gainey, Will Forte, Jurgen Prochnow), and a fun idea for a movie (about a underground competitive beer drinking league), tons of silly jokes and strong performances from everyone. It would appear to be getting a sequel called “Potfest”, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
THE SLAMMIN’ SALMON (2009) – one of the least funny comedies I’ve ever seen, about the waiters under Michael Clark Duncan at the titular restaurant. Every joke fails and fails hard, even though they got a ton of great guest stars to be patrons of the restaurant. It’s so bad, I’ve really got no idea why it exists at all. Did none of them think “why are we doing this?” and if not, why not?
BROKEN LIZARD STANDS UP (2010) – live concert movie, with occasional backstage sketches. About as good as you’d expect a film from 5 actors who’d not done anything live in the best part of 15 years would be.
There’s variety in their characters, and I think with a couple of better writers, Broken Lizard’s movies would be absolutely fantastic. I genuinely hope “Super Troopers 2” will be as good as their most devoted fans think part 1 is, but I don’t think it will be. I feel bad that I don’t like them more than I do, which seems to be (based on other reviews) the feeling of lots of people. They always appear to be having a good time in their movies, if only they could translate that feeling to audiences.
Rating: thumbs in the middle