An odd little comedy that was released with little fanfare in late 2001, "Wet Hot American Summer" is an attempt to lightly parody such teen films as "Meatballs". Directed and written (some members also star) by former stars of the comedy group "The State" (the show was on MTV in the early 90's), the film also stars Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd and Molly Shannon. While the idea of spoofing these movies does sound new and original, that doesn't mean it's enjoyable.
"Wet Hot" revolves around Camp Firewood in 1981, on the last day of Summer camp. Apparently, they haven't really done anything for the past few months, so both counselors and campers alike want to do something moderately special to close off the proceedings. Of course, there's also the usual characters - the dorky guy (Michael Showalter), who has a crush on the cute girl (Marguerite Marceau ), her jerk boyfriend (Paul Rudd) and the frazzled one (Janeane Garofalo) who happens to have fallen for the local astrophysics prof (David Hyde Pierce). There's even a crazed cook (Christopher Meloni) with serious problems.
Given that most of these films were almost parodies of themselves to begin with, "Wet Hot American Summer" starts off on thin ground - and gets progressively worse. Other films from this genre have been sloppy and silly, but have had memorable characters, classic moments, decent writing, comedic timing and other elements that, while not exactly making them "art", at least makes them memorable to many. "American Summer" can't even accomplish this, choosing to instead present cardboard characters and weakly done skits badly tied together into some sort of messy whole. As the film sputtered to a close with a talent show by the campers, I still had no idea why I should care about anything that I just watched.
I sat through 99% of "Wet Hot American Summer" with a completely blank stare. The film seems to not have been done with an actual plan - rather, the filmmakers brought a camera and cast into the room and must have said, "do stuff." The result is a few tiny glimpses of humor (sheer luck, I'd guess) lost admist a mountain of really unfunny scenes. There may have been some buried gems within the material, but the cast just seems to indifferently throw the jokes out, hoping one will succeed.
I barely remember watching "The State" and thinking some of the episodes were mildly funny back then. While "State" member Michael Patrick Jann parodied the small-town beauty contest quite well in 1999's "Drop Dead Gorgeous", "Wet Hot American Summer" isn't even as funny as the films it's trying to parody. The fact that the film seems to think it's hilarious only made it more irritating.
VIDEO: "Wet Hot American Summer" is presented by USA Films in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The movie itself is not pleasant to look at and rather poorly filmed at times, but USA films - as with their other efforts - has turned in an effort that doesn't make it look any worse than it already does. Sharpness and detail are fairly good - while the film has some soft-ish moments, most of it looked fairly well-defined and crisp.
The only problems that I noticed were a few traces of very slight pixelation and edge enhancement, as well as one or two minor print flaws. Colors appeared natural and bright, with no smearing or other flaws.
SOUND: The filmmakers obviously didn't have much interest in sound, either - the film is presented in stereo and is quite basic. The 80's music has limited presence in the background, while dialogue takes much of the focus of the audio, of course. Dialogue can occasionally sound a bit rough, but mostly the soundtrack had no noticable problems.
MENUS: Nicely animated main and sub-menus with film-themed images, clips and music in the background.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director David Wain, co-writer Michael Showalter and actress Janeane Garofalo. The commentary is not much more interesting than the movie itself, as the three mainly discuss what's going on on-screen, occasionally sharing some stories about what happened on-set and talking about such production issues as shooting "Wet Hot American Summer" in what is obviously a cold, wet American Spring. I honestly stopped listening after a while, because it wasn't going anywhere.
Deleted Scenes: 12 minutes of snippets, able to viewed with or without commentary from the directors.
Cast Comments: Short interviews with Garofalo, Hyde Pierce, Molly Shannon, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni, Marguerite Moreau, Michael Showalter and David Wain.
Behind-the-Scenes: 15 minutes of behind-the-scenes clips, mainly focusing on the cast trying to work on their scenes and the filmmakers trying to work their way around the rain. There's a few funny moments early on, but the featurette gets duller as it goes on.
Songs W/Production Stills: Listen to four songs ("Wet Hot American Dream", "Summer In America", "Wet Hot American Summer" and "Higher and Higher") while production stills go by on-screen.
Also: Cast and crew bios, trailer.
Final Thoughts: A complete and total bore where nearly nothing works, I thought "Wet Hot American Summer" was 95 minutes of awfulness. Those who are fans will be pleased that USA Films has provided a somewhat special edition of the film, but I'd recommend others to definitely skip this film.