Club Dread stars Bill Paxton as Coconut Pete, who churned out a few gold albums about booze and bimbos in the '70s before Jimmy Buffett came along and stole his thunder. Still, Pete squirreled away enough to buy a small tropical island and turn it into a hedonistic resort. The Broken Lizard troupe make up most of the staff at Pleasure Island: a dreadlocked British tennis instructor Putman (Jay Chandrasekhar), 'ispanic lothario Juan (Steve Lemme), Fun Police officer Sam (Erik Stolhanske), DJ and drug dealer Dave (Paul Soter), and masseur Lars (Kevin Heffernan) with his nearly supernatural touch. The premise...? Well, when a body count starts to pile up on Pleasure Island, the staff tries to figure out who the culprit is without alerting the guests. Everyone's a suspect, even aerobics instructor Jenny (Brittany Daniel) and obsessive gymnast Penelope (Jordan Ladd, who's less timid about nudity in Club Dread than she was in Cabin Fever).
Turn the Wayback Machine to 1983, grab a few reels of any random teen sex comedy and any random slasher flick, splice them together, and you'll wind up with something remarkably similar to Club Dread. Horror and comedy are a pretty volatile combination, and Club Dread flounders at both. There are some inspired moments of comedy -- particularly a live-action Pac-Man game, and some of the jabs at Jimmy Buffett are great -- but anemic sexual puns are mostly what pass for humor. The horror aspects aren't really any better. Most of the kills are straightforward stalk-'n-slash -- someone hears a sound, we see the victim tear off from the killer's P.O.V., and a swipe of a blade later, it's onto the next scene. I was expecting Broken Lizard to be more creative than this. Some other slasher mainstays, like the scores of fake scares and an overly resilient killer, are also tossed in with varying degress of success. The movie plods along, dragging on at least a good twenty minutes more than it ought to. There are long stretches where nothing really seems to happen at all, although I guess that could also be a nod to the quickly-shat-out scripts of the movies that inspired it. Still, if there's one thing Club Dread does do well, it's boobs. Every woman in the movie is either topless at some point or wears a bikini so tiny that she might as well be. Since there are so few good jokes or inventive kills, at least Broken Lizard gives viewers something worth looking at.
Video: Club Dread includes both an anamorphic widescreen presentation and a reformatted full-frame version on opposite sides of the disc. The movie's theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio is preserved on the widescreen side, and the full-frame version loses information on the sides but adds a bit on the top and bottom of the frame. The widescreen version is sharp and colorful, with only a few tiny specks and a small amount of artifacting present throughout. Sharpness at times looks like it's been artificially boosted a bit, but there aren't any intrusive haloes hugging hard edges. Pretty standard stuff.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, encoded at a bitrate of 448Kbps, is a little more active than most comedies. The tropical island setting provides plenty of opportunities to toss in jungle sounds and crashing waves in the surrounds, and since the killers in these movies always seem to pop up out of nowhere, the multichannel setup helps boost the effectiveness of some of the jump-scares. Dialogue, various bits of music throughout, and the brilliant Jimmy Buffett spoofs Bill Paxton performs all come through well. The lower frequencies aren't utilized much outside of the music, but the subwoofer can pack a wallop, particularly the boom that accompanies the "cracked shell", the best and most unexpected kill-reveal in the entire movie. Among the DVD's other audio options are French and Spanish stereo surround dubs, subtitles in English and Spanish, and closed captions.
Supplements: The widescreen side of the disc includes two commentary tracks with the members of Broken Lizard. They're divvied up the same way as the Super Troopers DVD -- the first has Jay Chandrasekhar and Erik Stolhankse, and the second commentary features Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, and Paul Soter. The first track is more laid back, with a lot of pauses between Chandrasekhar and Stolhankse pointing out friends, homages, and little gags in the background. Some of the highlights include lifting footage from The Beach, screening the movie for Jimmy Buffett, Carlito's Way a decade earlier inspiring a recurring mispronunciation joke, and searching for an aging British rocker willing to make out with Chandrasekhar. I also learned that this is my second consecutive review of a movie where a penis had to be digitally removed. The other commentary is more energetic and covers a lot of ground that the first one didn't, like working with an entire cast of seasick extras, the disappointment of squeezing go-go dancers into bikinis, gymnasts and their lack of superhuman strength, inadvertently smashing a guitar under low-light, and pipe dreams of killing a shark with a golf cart. Although I obviously wasn't too keen on the movie itself, I got a kick out of both tracks, and I really am looking forward to seeing what Broken Lizard comes up with next. The only other extra is a thirty-second plug for the soundtrack. Also: thirty-two chapters, 16x9-enhanced animated menus, no insert, keepcase. I think that about covers it.
Conclusion: A horror/comedy without much of either, Broken Lizard's tepid Club Dread is strictly rental territory. Not recommended as a purchase sight-unseen. When is Student Bodies going to come out on DVD already?
Related Links: If the live-action rendition of Pac-Man sounds appealing, take a peek at Pac-Manhattan. The official Club Dread site has a trailer, a soundboard, a blog, pictures, and...yeah. Much better than most paint-by-numbers movie sites. Broken Lizard also have an official site of their own.