FRESHMAN ORIENTATION

R
Reviews

Leaving aside the prospect of seeing Sam Huntington and Kaitlin Doubleday, stars of the new TV series “Cavemen,” together for the first time in one epic movie, the charms of this college gross-out comedy with a "message" are elusive. Completed in 2004 under the hilarious title Home of Phobia, it's getting a limited release in the wake of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, in which Adam Sandler similarly played a straight guy posing as gay to get a girl. And this movie makes Chuck and Larry look like Romeo and Juliet.

At least the first half does. That's the effluvia-dripping half where the Archie Andrews-ish Clay Adams (Huntington, whom the press notes claim landed Jimmy Olsen in Superman Returns after Bryan Singer saw him here) arrives at a generic college to major in chicks. He and handsome young virgin Matt Myers (Mike Erwin) wind up rooming together after first being assigned, respectively, a flagrantly masturbatory Jesus freak and a flatulent, bullying, grossly obese ladies' man. Come to think of it, Freshman Orientation makes American Pie look like Romeo and Juliet, too.

Into this mess steps Amanda (Doubleday), a former prom queen who, in one of the movie's many contrivances, can only afford to attend college through a sorority scholarship that will be revoked unless she humiliates a gay guy at the "freak formal," a party in which pledges (including an atypically awful Heather Matarazzo) must each bring and dump a purported undesirable ("Cripple" and "Muslim" among the laff-riot choices). Clay, not knowing about the getting-dumped part, sees this as his chance to score a girl way out of his league. When the time is right, he figures, he'll just tell her she's made him realize he's straight after all.

This sets up the expected array of learning-to-act-gay montages, BFF hanging-out, and eventual realization that, hey, gays are people too, and walking a mile in their shoes has taught me that blah-blah-blah. A couple of moments of lucidity and mocking self-awareness spring out unexpectedly, such as an American Beauty inside joke and Clay’s fatalistic vision of a future that likely holds nothing more fulfilling than Saturday barbecues and getting a good deal on a Honda Civic. Amanda also has moments that show her as neither that old stereotype of the blonde airhead nor the new stereotype of the blonde beauty who's really got brains and soul. She realizes she's both very pretty and very, very average, and the aching ordinariness of that comes off as a breath of the refreshingly real. These are daisies in dung, however.

John Goodman, in a “What the hell is he doing here?” role, has a fey yet highly human bit as a gay-bar owner. (Turns out Goodman lives in New Orleans, where this was filmed pre-Katrina, so he could practically have walked to work.) The versatile sketch comic Rachel Dratch does as well as anyone could in the hoary stereotype of Very Drunk Chick—her actual character name, folks! And Marla Sokoloff holds the screen well in a militant-lesbian-Goth role far removed from law-firm receptionist Lucy Hatcher on TV’s “The Practice.” Music fans will note Dicky Barrett, lead singer of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, as a cop.