Oh, where to begin? "National Lampoon's Stoned Age" is the latest direct-to-video soul-crusher from the once-respected, now-feared comedy factory, and they've front loaded it with enough terribleness that one assumes they were banking on a failure, "Springtime for Hitler"-style. The supporting cast includes Gary Busey, David Carradine, and Ron Jeremy as cavemen with names like "Krutz," "Mookoo," and, of course, "Oog." Carol Alt shows up as an Amazon queen named Fallopia. In the leading role, writer/director Adam Rifkin - the dependably bad filmmaker behind stuff like "Detroit Rock City," "The Dark Backward," and "Psycho Cop 2" - cast himself, on purpose. Jokes mainly consist of Rifkin getting hit with a rock.
The film's original title - "Homo Erectus" - has been replaced for home video by producers assuming video stores wouldn't agree to market such a name; they picked as a substitute perhaps the only dumber pun available, the sort of idiotic joke-title that makes you weep a little inside. Whatever you call it, it's a mess, a dreadful little laugh vacuum that makes you yearn for the droll subtlety of Ringo Starr in "Caveman."
Ishbo (Rifkin) is a neurotic, wimpy caveman (he even wears glasses, ha ha!) who'd rather be inventing than hunting - a running gag centers on his attempts to create pants, bicycles, and lasers, although, like everything else here, the script doesn't really bother to keep up with this premise, so it trickles off into nothing, just as we were starting to not laugh at it. Ishbo's heart gets broken when lifelong crush Fardart (Ali Larter) weds his hunky brother and future tribe leader Thudnik (Hayes MacArthur), and the rest of the plot is sort of about how he tries to win her back, sort of about how he copes with the war with a neighboring tribe, sort of about how he's a loser, and so on. It's not so much a story than a collection of idea snippets and sketch premises thought up at random. (Disjointed, nothing-to-do-with-anything moments like the scene with Tom Arnold as a gay caveman - hilarious! - come and go with so little impact that the actual plot feels like a mandatory afterthought.)
The whole thing is intended to be in the style of early Mel Brooks and Woody Allen, especially Allen's "Love and Death." Rifkin does his best Allen impression here, and most of the humor is supposed to come from Ishbo's modern hang-ups clashing with club-to-the-head primitive life. But it all fails. Rifkin can't match Allen's wit, but more importantly, his aims are constantly sidetracked by fart jokes, poop jokes, dick jokes, and overlong scenes showcasing a parade of topless women. (The idea is that if we see enough breasts, we won't mind the awfulness that surrounds them.) He might want to pay tribute to his filmmaking hero, but he ends up tossing us rock-to-head slapstick instead.
To help with financing, Rifkin and his production partners worked out a deal with the University of Texas; the school would fund the project and their film students would serve as crew. But what did they learn for their semester of credit? "Stoned Age" is a crudely made cheapie, lazy in its comedy, sloppy in its storytelling. If Rifkin were the student, he'd surely flunk the course.
"Stoned Age" is being offered on DVD in two versions: R-rated and unrated. The unrated version is the one reviewed here; this adds about a minute of extra footage, mainly in the form of an overdrawn scene involving frolicking nudes.
Video & Audio
While the packaging mistakenly promises a pan-and-scan presentation, the disc actually features a full 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Despite the cheap production, the image is pretty good here, with sharp colors and strong detail.
There's not much difference between the Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 soundtrack mixes. The surround track keeps most of the action up front. The music and effects never impress, but at least the dialogue is clear. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are provided.
Rifkin rambles pointlessly in his commentary track, where he's joined by two buddies: sometimes-collaborator Peter Shink and personal assistant Shane McAvoy, neither of whom actually worked on the film. Aside from an informative first minute or two, there's barely any discussion of the movie's production at all; the rest is Rifkin clowning around with his pals, talking about what they're eating for lunch or jokes about their sex lives. Loud and obnoxious and completely empty of value, it's about as bad as a commentary track can get.
A music video for the song "Caveman in Love" (both 3:54; 1.78:1 flat letterbox) is presented in both regular and "unrated" versions - the difference is in the skimpy clothing, or lack thereof, of the background dancers.
Even more tiresome is the "Old Fool Rap" (2:35; 1.33:1 full frame), which stars William A. Tyree, in character as the movie's naked old man, rapping while surrounded by topless young models.
Two "wacky" promotional clips titled "Empty Theater" (1:20; 1.33:1) and "Full Theater" (2:23; 1.33:1) show fake hidden video reactions from fake audiences, one hating the movie, one loving it. Another promo, "Gay-vemen" (2:03; 1.33:1), is a fake documentary on gay cavemen enjoying modern L.A. All three were produced to hype the movie's failed attempt at a theatrical run, adding a pinch of extra humiliation to the proceedings.
Next up are lengthy videos of two photo shoots: an extra-naked pictorial for "Penthouse" (9:28; 1.33:1) and a tamer one for "Maxim" (17:18; 1.33:1). (I'm not sure if either spreads, created to help sell the film, wound up going to print.) Both exist, I suppose, for young men too lazy to fast forward through the movie looking for boobs.
"Original Title" (0:25; 1.78:1 anamorphic) is a shot of the film's opening credits with the "Homo Erectus" name in tact.
"Deleted Scenes" (2:03; 1.78:1 anamorphic) is really just one deleted scene, featuring more naked models. Enjoy.
"Bloopers" (4:18; 1.78:1 anamorphic) is equally mistitled; it's a set of outtakes from a single scene, in which Tyree repeatedly flubs his lines.
A few pages of a comic book adaptation of the film (including an alternate ending) is available to click through via your remote. A separate collection of comic book art is accessible in PDF format through your DVD-ROM.
A Q&A session (15:51; 1.33:1) has Rifkin chatting in front of a preview audience while Ain't It Cool's "Moriarity" offers up suck-up questions. Rifkin offers (almost verbatim) the same few stories he manages to include in the commentary.
The film's DVD trailer (1:25; 1.78:1 anamorphic) rounds out the set. A batch of previews for other horrible Lampoon titles plays as the disc loads.
For a National Lampoon T&A cheapie made by someone as unbearable as Adam Rifkin, "Stoned Age" actually manages to be even worse than it sounds. Skip It.