Orange County is the latest movie to come from MTV's feature film division, a group whose inconsistent cinematic track record includes great stuff like Alexander Payne's Election and decidedly not great stuff along the lines of Crossroads and Pooty Tang. Orange County takes place in the sunny California locale subtly hinted at in the film's title. Colin Hanks stars as Shaun Brumder, a bright but unfocused surfer whose life is turned upside down when he stumbles upon a copy of Marcus Skinner's novel Straight Jacket. Possessed by an insatiable desire to write, Shaun's singular goal is to attend Stanford University and study under Skinner. Acceptance seems like a shoo-in, given Shaun's 1520 S.A.T. score and a respectably high G.P.A., but his incompetent counselor (Lily Tomlin) sends the esteemed university the wrong set of transcripts. His loyal animal rights fanatic girlfriend Ashley pulls through, using both her connections and a repressed devilish streak to get Shaun an interview with a member of Stanford's board of directors. His drunken mother (Catherine O'Hara) and slovenly brother (Jack Black) inadvertently botch everything, making a urine-saturated mess of the whole affair and dash any hopes Shaun may have had of leaving Orange County. Shaun's wealthy, remarried father (John Lithgow) is equally useless, unmoved by Sean's newfound interest in writing and unwilling to bribe Stanford with a hefty donation. As a last ditch effort, Lance drives Shaun and Ashley to Stanford so that they can confront the Dean of Admissions directly with details of the mix-up. Wackiness ensues, including passion-fueled arson, drugging, and, y'know, love and stuff.
Seemingly every film critic, online reviewer, and entertainment writer has noted that Orange County features the kids of a number of famous folks, including Lawrence Kasden's son Jake, Tom Hanks' son Colin, Sissy Spacek's daughter Schuyler Fisk, and Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara's particularly well-known son, Ben. To provide some semblance of originality, I'll set my sights on the overlap between Orange County and what very well may be my favorite television series of all time, the painfully short-lived Freaks and Geeks. Director Jake Kasdan and writer Mike White both worked on the series, and composer Michael Andrews, second A.D. Carey Dietrich, make-up artist Lisa Layman, costume designer Debra McGuire, and editor Tara Timpone all reprise their production roles for Orange County. In front of the camera are Lizzy Caplan (Freaks and Geeks' Sara), Natasha Melnick (Cindy), Sarah Hagan (Millie), and Shawn Soon (Brian Stroker). Colin Hanks was also involved with Freaks and Geeks regular Busy Philipps for quite a while. I could delve into the returning cast members from Undeclared and Grosse Pointe, both underappreciated series that Kasdan directed episodes of as well, but I've probably already lost what waning interest readers may have had in this review.
Kasdan and White gush over their cast in the disc's audio commentary, and their enthusiasm is not unjustified. They've assembled a very funny and very talented group of actors and actresses. Orange County marks Colin Hanks' first time carrying a movie, following his supporting roles in teen flicks like Get Over It! and Whatever It Takes. Despite his relative inexperience, Hanks is more than up to the weighty task, coming through as thoroughly likeable and poised for stardom. Jack Black is hysterical, responsible for almost every single one of Orange County's many laughs. Such recognizable faces as Chevy Chase, Kevin Kline, Harold Ramis, Garry Marshall, Ben Stiller, and Lily Tomlin put in memorable cameos. I'm a little hesitant to mention that I watched the WB's Popular with near-religious fervor, but one of its stars, the ridiculously cute Carly Pope (who appeared in the meteorologically dissimilar Snow Day with Chevy Chase and Schuyler Fisk), puts in an all-too-brief performance as a grief-stricken gal willing to have her way with anyone within arm's reach.
I bitch incessantly about gross-out humor and its inability to have much of an effect on me, but Orange County is another in a thankfully increasing number of films that shy away from that sort of banality. The comedy is heavily based around slapstick and funny dialogue rather than cheap penis and semen gags. Minus credits, Orange County clocks in under 80 minutes, free of any filler or the obligatory slow sections that so often drag pacing to a screeching halt in similar efforts. I've found myself feeling disappointed by the majority of comedies released over the past couple of years, but Orange County offers some faint glimmer of hope that comedies may one day actually be funny again.
Video: Orange County is presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The image is sharp enough to make Gillette jealous, and the level of detail is at times striking. Colors are vibrant and very attractively saturated, and the level of film grain infrequently visible didn't feel intrusive in the slightest. The horizontal lines of the high school's unique design often appeared distorted as the camera whipped around, as did some tiny text in a poster in Lance's room. These are, of course, exceedingly minor issues. Despite my irrepressible need to nitpick DVD presentations, I'm hard-pressed to find much of anything negative to say. Typically fine work from Paramount.
Audio: Orange County's Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a standard issue comedy mix, with the majority of the action spread across the front of the soundstage. The emphasis is predictably on dialogue and the Modern Rock Soundtrack™. As is to be expected from a movie so recently bouncing out of theaters, everything is clean, clear, and easily discernable. Surrounds may not roar with activity for much of the film's runtime (the early tsunami sequence being one rare exception), though they do effectively reinforce the score and various songs scattered throughout. Orange County sounds great, even if the material isn't of the sort that cries out for an overly aggressive mix.
By the way, thumbs up to whoever made the call to include music contributed by Brian Wilson, Ivy, Phantom Planet, 22 Jacks, 12Rods, Social Distortion, Cake, and the Foo Fighters. Their collective talent almost offsets the repeated use of (shudder) Crazy Town's "Butterfly".
For those who have yet to dip their toes into the six-channel waters, a separate English stereo surround track has been provided alongside a stereo French dub. The usual smattering of foreign subtitles is absent, though there are subs and closed captioning in English.
Supplements: Director Jake Kasdan and writer Mike White participate in the disc's audio commentary track. Orange County was the fourth DVD I'd watched in as many days with commentary, and maybe if I hadn't sat through several that I really liked, Orange County's wouldn't have seemed so lackluster. There are several lengthy periods of dead silence, and though Kasdan and White do crack a few jokes, it's more to amuse each other than anyone who would happen to be listening to this discussion. Looking back, there wasn't much revealed about the making of the film at all. Kasdan does note that the tsunami sequence was his first experience with that level of digital effects, and he pokes fun at a particularly hackneyed sequence where Shaun mopes around the UCLA mock-Stanford campus. It's chatty and informal, which can be good...but rather insubstantial, which is invariably bad.
The interstitials are by far the most entertaining extras on the disc, and they have been divided into two distinct sets. Though the second batch consists of brief snippets from the film, the remainder feature original material filmed with these TV spots in mind. Almost every single one had me laughing out loud, especially those with Dave White returning as '90s pop culture junkie Mr. Burke. A 'Play All' feature would have been welcomed, but this material is well worth the thumb-wear of repeated clicking.
Judging from Orange County's commentary, apparently quite a bit was snipped out of the movie to arrive at its lean runtime. Only four scenes were deemed worth including on this DVD, though, and two of them would've fit in very well if they'd been integrated into the film. First up, Lance has a run-in with Donald Durkett, bringing their two plot threads together. Even funnier is Mrs. Cobb arming herself after the misinterpreted encounter with Sean, wielding a stun gun against seemingly everyone within a thirty foot radius. The other two scenes are nothing special, featuring Lance mulling a trip to rehab and Shaun fantasizing about what it must be like to attend Stanford. All of the footage is letterboxed, though it's not enhanced for widescreen televisions.
Finally, a letterboxed, Dolby Digital 5.1 theatrical trailer for Orange County has been included.
Music videos for the Offspring's "Defy You" and the Foo Fighters' "The One" were produced to promote Orange County and its inevitable corresponding soundtrack, but neither of them pop up on this DVD for whatever reason.
Conclusion: I personally found Orange County to be funnier than the vast majority of comedies produced in the past few years, and judging by its healthy $41 million box office take, apparently quite a few people agree. The supplemental material is pretty standard for a DVD release of a recent film, but the hilarious interstitials alone are almost worth the price of entry. Actually, the $29.99 list price is a little off-putting, though Circuit City and Best Buy are both carrying the disc for $17.99 during its initial week of release. Best Buy also has a 'Preferred Customer Weekend' starting on June 21st for those who don't mind waiting a couple of days and want to save another buck-eighty. Recommended.