Orange County (2002)

I vaguely remember watching the trailer for Orange County in theaters and thinking, “this movie is going to be funny.” The trailer depicted a story revolving around a loser played by Jack Black and his straight laced brother trying to get into college. Along the way, they would run into Chevy Chase, Catherine O’Hara, Lily Tomlin, John Lithgow, Harold Ramis, Kevin Kline, Ben Stiller, and more.

Last night I actually watched Orange County, and was disappointed to discover that the film barely even a comedy, despite its heavy roster of classic comedic geniuses. In fact, the trailer seems to show an entirely different movie all together.

Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks) is a happy-go-lucky surfer kid. One day, he discovers a book buried in the sand at the beach that changes his life. The author of the book, Marcus Skinner (Kevin Kline), is also a professor at Stanford University, which inspires Brumber to apply there. Through an unlikely mix-up, Brumber’s transcript is mistakenly switched with a poor student’s, and he is rejected from Stanford.

This begins another boring chapter of, “kid in bad living situation heads out into the world to make his life better, only to realize that the crappy people he lives with weren’t so bad in the first place.” That seems like a stretch when you meet Shaun’s family. Catherine O’Hara is Cindy Beugler, Shaun’s mom, a middle-aged divorced mother and chronic alcoholic. Jack Black is Lance Brumder, Shaun’s brother, an unemployed drug user/dealer who likes to hang around the house in his underwear and borrows Shaun’s piss for “when his parole officer comes by.” Shaun also lives with his stepdad, Bob Beugler (George Murdock), an 80 year old man who sits in a wheelchair and gets abused for comic relief. Across town, Shaun’s dad Bud Brumder (John Lithgow) is more interested in making money than giving his family any attention.

The only people in his life that Shaun actually likes are his surfer buddies Arlo, Chad, and Lonny, and his girlfriend Ashley (Schuyler Fisk). His friends make fun of him for wanting to become a writer instead of a “professional surfer,” and his girlfriend “prays he won’t get accepted to Stanford” so they won’t split up. Remember, these are his friends.

Shaun’s urge to write under the guidance of Skinner is so strong that he applies to Stanford (and no other schools). Unfortunately for Shaun, bumbling councelor Charlotte Cobb (Lily Tomlin) sends Stanford the wrong transcript, which results in Shaun’s rejection. 45 minutes into this 82 minute adventure, the actual plot begins. Shaun, along with brother Lance and girlfriend Ashley, decide to drive to Stanford to try and convince whoever they can to let Shaun in.

As someone who loves to write, I really felt like I could relate to Russell Hammond in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. While Orange County I didn’t care about anyone. When Lance Brumder almost gets arrested for torching the dean’s office, I was thinking, “Good! He deserves it!” So many people in Shaun’s life are mean and nasty to him, it’s tough to pull for them in any situation.

Jack Black, one of my favorite comedians, is particularly unfunny here. Most of the other comedy giants appearing here seem to be for little more than a favor. Chevy Chase is in the film for one scene, and gets a minor chuckle. Catherine O’Hara and John Lithgow avoid jokes like the plague here. Even Shaun’s surfer buddies are painfully one-dimensional and thin. By the end of the film I didn’t care if the kid ended up in Stanford, Yale, a community college or dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Overall, the movie wasn’t bad — just unmemorable. Orange County is a pointless romp whose main idea was covered over 60 years ago when Dorothy said, “there’s no place like home.”

Even if it’s Orange County.

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