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National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze (Unrated)

MGM // Unrated // August 10, 2004
List Price: $25.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 9, 2004 | E-mail the Author
Lo, there once was a time when having "National Lampoon" in the title of a movie guaranteed hee-larity: Animal House, the Vacation series...and I guess that's pretty much it. The National Lampoon machine started churning out flicks really quickly throughout the '90s, and movies like Golf Punks and Senior Trip kind of killed it as a cinematic brand name. Then along came Van Wilder, which raked in enough cash to get the assembly line running again at full speed. Comedy veteran Arthur Hiller is slated to helm National Lampoon's The Trouble with Frank, and Paris Hilton is starring in Pledge This!, which I'm honor-bound not to badmouth. But before either of those trot into theaters, get dumped on video, or suffer whatever fate awaits them, there's Dorm Daze. Actually, the full title is National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze, which I guess is because the Lampoon didn't get involved until after the movie had already been made. Too bad the title doesn't have the possessive because it's one of the better recent Lampoon flicks.

I picked up Dorm Daze because it was written by Patrick Casey and Worm Miller, the creative forces behind the independent horror-slash-comedy Hey, Stop Stabbing Me! I hadn't actually seen ...Stabbing... or any of their other movies, but that not-really-logic seemed like enough to compel me to grab this disc anyway. A few reviews of Dorm Daze from its limited theatrical run have been floating around for a while, and the critical reception has been unilaterally negative. A star and a half make up about the most glowing praise I've seen up to this point. But hey, I've never been shy about boldly venturing forth against the grain, so I'll take a historic step and write what is and will probably remain the only positive review of National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze.

I don't really know how to best summarize Dorm Daze because of the multilayered approach I'll rant at length about a paragraph or two down. To give it a quick shot, the movie's set at a university (obviously; y'know, Dorm Daze) as exams are wrapping up for the semester. Styles McFee wants to get his brother laid, but Booker is saving his "special gift" for his virtuous, cleavagy girlfriend Rachel. Styles shrugs that off and tries to set him up with a hooker named Dominique. A couple rooms down, Wang is excitedly preparing for this arrival of a French foreign exchange student, but he has to head to work and doesn't have time to meet her in person at the moment. He passes along a message that cycles from pal to pal to meet up with this unknown student, who happens to be named...arm the rimshot...Dominique. Mistaken identity? Hooker? Wang? You see where this is leading, and I haven't even gotten to the bit about the sausage. A bunch of other stories are also bubbling beneath the surface. Gerri doesn't have the funds to stay in college after this semester, but she winds up holding a misdelivered package from a con artist named Lorenzo. There are tens of thousands of dollars neatly bundled in a purse strikingly similar to the one Adrienne borrowed from her friend Claire and subsequently lost. Adrienne's ducking out of Claire's way until she can track down that handbag, and she's also steering clear of Newmar, a dweeb she'd made out with the night before in a fit of drunken depression. She's secretly pining over chest-shaving, faceless-dance-music-pumping Foosball, blissfully unaware that she's crushing on a gay man. Gabby sorostitutes Marla and Lynne are incensed about having a hooker in their midst and even more miffed about Claire's boyfriend's apparent abusive behavior and infidelity. Heavily-pierced Cliff is hanging around campus after losing a huge wad of cash in Vegas, and he's so disinterested in chatting with the straggling students littering the hall that he wears a whiteboard around his neck claiming that he doesn't speak English. Hooker-Dominique catches wind of the bag full of cash and teams up with everyone in sight to snag the loot, while Styles chases down a terrified student-Dominique as he tries to get his money's worth from a misidentified hundred-dollar whore.

Most teen/college/whatever comedies follow a very linear progression: introduce your cast of characters, move onto Comic Setpiece Mark I, crossfade to Comic Setpiece Mark II, and a bunch of etceteras later, the bad guys get their comeuppance and the good guys live happily ever after. If one of those sequences flops (and you're walking away lucky if it's just one), that's six minutes needlessly wasted on tedium. What sets Dorm Daze apart from the rest of the pack is that it juggles a small army of different characters and introduces a slew of concurrent subplots. I don't even know if they'd technically be considered subplots since nothing is really established very early on as the central premise. As the counter on the DVD player ticks forward, those different subplots intertwine, becoming increasingly complex and ensnaring all of these unwitting characters. It culminates in what turns out to be...well, not one misunderstanding, but more like twenty-seven or twenty-eight fun-size misunderstandings. That's both the movie's biggest selling point and its central fault. There are so many misinterpreted conversations, incorrectly exchanged letters, and mistaken identities that the movie feels like Casey and Miller alternated between sitting through dozens of college sex comedies on Cinemax and watching season sets of Frasier until the laser on their DVD player burnt out. The first half of the movie is more even with the comedy -- there are a bunch of really hysterical exchanges, and the initial onslaught of misunderstandings tickled me in various naughty places to the point of laughing out loud and hitting things. After a while, those misunderstandings, and I really wish I weren't too lazy to thumb through a thesaurus to find a different word to use instead, stop being all that funny. Those numerous twists and turns keep things fresh and still held my interest up until the unspooling of the end credits, but the laughs peter out as the movie starts relying almost solely on characters misinterpreting various situations. There aren't any eminently quotable lines, and this isn't the type of movie that lends itself to skipping straight to a favorite scene. It's not a flick you can start watching forty minutes in on TBS. The funny parts are funny because of context...because of everything that's happened up to that point...and don't stand on their own that well. Wow, that's way too many sentences to make a fairly insignificant point. There's not much refined wit to be found either, but it's a college sex comedy, so anyone dimwitted enough to look here for that is...pretty...dimwitted. Sorry for not bringing my A-game today. But hey, sex comedy! That means sex, right? Well, while that's the easiest label to slap on Dorm Daze, there aren't any hot-'n-heavy steamy scenes, at least not on-screen. It does have a couple pairs of boobies, some girl-on-girl tongue wrasslin', and enough cleavage and tight-fitting skimpy clothing to outfit the cast of She-Spies for a month. MGM is releasing separate rated and unrated versions of this movie on DVD, which is baffling to me since the unrated version I'm reviewing seems like it would net an R without any problem.

I don't have a segway planned out to the next chunk of the review, so I'll just awkwardly skip to the part where I talk about the cast. Dorm Daze has a bunch of recognizable faces, even though most of 'em are "Hey, that guy!"s. Y'know, you can't remember their names, but you can rattle off a movie or two they've been in. In which they've been. Whatever. The "that guy"s this time around include Tatyana Ali (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), James DeBello (Cabin Fever), Danielle Fishel (Boy Meets World), Jennifer Lyons (okay, well, I recognized her from Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman; no, seriously), Chris Owen (every teen flick from the past eight years), and Patrick Renna (The Sandlot). I wasn't all that familiar with the rest of the cast, but golly, Cameron Richardson and Marie Noelle Marquis sure are purty. This review is already way too long for me to go in-depth about each individual performance, but I thought it was a funny, solid cast with no obvious weak links.

Okay, Dorm Daze is not a great movie. It's not destined to be some sort of enduring classic, and the only people who are going to be talking about this movie twelve years from now are film critics decrying the state of the National Lampoon movies of 2016. But who really cares? I don't watch a movie with longevity in mind -- I pop in DVDs to be entertained here and now, and even if I'm the sole voice willing to publicly state this in such a harsh, unforgiving world, Dorm Daze is an entertaining flick. I wouldn't scribble down a review this obnoxious and incomprehensibly self-indulgent if I didn't like it. My usual criteria for a comedy is -- when I'm finished watching a movie, do I want to force it down the throat of one of my old roommates from college? If the answer is "yup", which it is in this case, then I'll recommend it. Dorm Daze is probably better suited to a rental since most of you will hate the movie and make it a point to disregard everything I ever write again. If you were already thinking about picking up Dorm Daze and were hoping to find a review to affirm your decision with a cartoonishly enthusiastic thumbs-up, you got it, chief.

Video: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is pretty much average, but since even average DVDs look pretty damn good anymore, that's not really meant as a complaint. It's sharp, fairly detailed, and doesn't suffer from any blatant problems with the source material or compression. Colors, contrast, and whatever else the DVD Reviewer Handbook says I'm supposed to prattle on about are all fine. The movie does have a very slightly gritty, modestly-budgeted appearance, but it translates well to this shiny five-inch disc. The DVD is so strictly average that it doesn't really leave me with anything to gripe about or lavish with praise, but...yeah, it's fine.

Audio: I haven't written a review of a comedy, yesterday, so my usual laundry list to describe this 448Kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack ought to sound lemony fresh and not the least bit stale or repetitive. Like most flicks in the genre, the surrounds and subwoofer pretty much have nothing to do. Things do get incrementally livelier when the pop-punk-littered soundtrack kicks in, and there's occasionally a tiny bit of ambiance or reinforced effects, but for the most part...nothin'. Dialogue comes through pretty well though, and if you do somehow miss a line, the movie is closed captioned and has subtitles in English y EspaƱol. No French, sadly, since it would've been kinda funny to see the clumsy stabs at speaking the language of love translated into aliased white text at the bottom of my screen. Anyway, it's not an aggressive, jaw-dropping mix, but it serves the movie well and sounds pretty much like every other six-channel comedy ever.

Supplements: Dorm Daze is a pretty decent special edition, kicking off with an audio commentary by directors David and Scott Hillenbrand and editor Dave O'Brien. It's a surprisingly dry and serious discussion, and my interest wanted pretty quickly. "He Said, She Said: Behind the Scenes of the Fantasy Sequence" spends six minutes or so with the directors, the two writers, Patrick Renna, Marie Noelle Marquis, and Playmate Katie Lohmann. They chat about the filming of Styles' unconscious delusion, including some on-set footage and ramblings about their ultimate sexual fantasies. A grainy anamorphic widescreen gag reel runs a little under four minutes without managing to squeeze anything particularly funny in there. While I'm on the "not funny" tip, three deleted scenes --"Cliff and the hooker find the purse", "Claire confides in Marla and Lynne", and "Lorenzo and Gerri arrive at McMartin Hall" -- can be viewed with optional audio commentary. They're all extremely short, in total running around two minutes. There's nothing really of interest, and the commentary boils down to "we liked it, but it didn't add anything."

Also included is a full twenty-five minute episode of National Lampoon's Master Debaters, which has a pair of panelists debating important issues of the days like "Resolved: that X-ray vision is the greatest possible superpower" and "that Boy Meets World was a far superior show to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air". The second segment is a little better just because it has Danielle Fishel and Tatyana Ali arguing against their respective series. Both sets are sporadically funny at best, and I can't ever imagine watching this on a weekly or, he types with a shudder, nightly basis. Rounding out the extras are a two-minute letterboxed theatrical trailer and plugs for a bunch of other MGM releases I don't really feel like listing in full. The disc's menus are static and in widescreen, and there are a total of sixteen chapter stops.

Conclusion: National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze is a triumph of the human spirit, in the sense of a triumph of the human spirit being a reasonably funny movie with a cleverly labyrinthine plot. I definitely think the mileage for this one is going to vary, and most viewers will probably be better off sticking with a rental. At least that way, if you loathe it, you can mention in your hateful e-mails that you were out three bucks instead of twenty. Personally, though, I enjoyed Dorm Daze enough to smack it with a Recommended tag.
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