There is simply no good reason why 20th Century Fox refused to screen the radiantly stoopid Dude, Where’s My Car? for critics—it’s a welcome whiff of potsmoke in an especially fetid Oscar-baiting season, an absurdist Homeric epic to show the Coen brothers what for. Young weedwhackers Jesse (Ashton Kutcher) and Chester (Seann William Scott) wake up in their studiously filthy apartment one morning to cabalistic pudding cups spilling out of their refrigerator and, devastatingly, an empty parking spot out front. The ensuing quest for Jesse’s auto entails menacing fratjocks, deep-throated space-alien babes, stampeding ostriches (or llamas—this is subject to some debate), a Heaven’s Gate-ish cult, a benevolent pair of “totally gay Nordic dudes,” and a historically precise non sequitur re-creation of an early-’90s poolside hip-hop video.
Director Danny Leiner, who has helmed episodes of Strangers With Candy and Freaks and Geeks, has a keen ear for comic grace notes and, propitiously, doesn’t know when to say when: The jokes rely strongly upon fearless repetition and protraction, creating the impression of Abbott and Costello as directed by the Farrellys (that DUDE/SWEET tattoo joke, milked mercilessly in the TV ads, doesn’t age a second). Screenwriter Philip Stark demonstrates impeccable taste in thievings that run the gamut from Half-Baked to Being John Malkovich, and the movie’s lineage descends from the best no-brainer teen comedies of the mid ’80s, notably Revenge of the Nerds, though the absurdly beautiful Kutcher doesn’t try too hard to approximate a sex-starved stoner dork. But Scott, nearly as pretty, does, yanking and crumpling his rubbery face into a Carreyesque repertoire of idiot grins, thrusting his jaw into a friendly Beavis underbite.
Indeed, Butt-head and his better half would seem the worthy models for these indeterminately financed, apparently parentless boys: Jesse is the droll, essentially functional leader, while Chester is the pliant tagalong who, while hazardously dim-witted most of the time, is also capable of sublime flights of insight. But it’s also worth pointing out that Jesse and Chester, who haven’t slept with their twin girlfriends after a year’s courtship, spend scarcely a moment apart (at one point Chester correctly guesses that Jesse needs to take a dump, and squeals triumphantly, “I know your body!”), bicker like an old married couple, keep waking up next to each other in various mysterious locations, and enjoy a tender, Fabio-instigated (if you have to ask . . . ) makeout session, are, like those sweet Nordic dudes, totally gay. Daft and lovable and even kinda daring, Dude deserves its truly clueless studio’s belabored support. My friend even supplied a blurbable quote: “The best dumbass-buddy comedy I’ve seen since Wayne’s World!”
Vatel‘s dudes, if nothing else, provide better sartorial eye candy—Roland Joffé’s pithy Louis XIV chapter is crawling with tittering bewigged dandies draped in upholstery, not to mention Sun King Julian Sands (!) in a terrible wax-on Dalí mustache. (Inveterate squeezer of nobles, Louis is introduced constipated on the pot.) As the titular master cuisinier, charged with preparing a massive three-day feast for the king, Gérard Depardieu manages an affecting performance against the likes of ambivalent lady-in-waiting Uma Thurman (striking High Baroque poses) and eye-rolling, tongue-lolling snake Tim Roth (in his outfit from Rob Roy). Vatel is drawn as an interloper across France’s class chasm (the film switches nimbly between sickly greens for the bowels of Vatel’s kitchen and nosebleed reds for high society), and Joffé intermittently shows an eye for grotesquely gorgeous spectacle. But he flits skittishly back and forth between blunt overkill (random magic-realist touches, lots of Uma-associated caged birds) and blandly tasteful restraint (a pivotal death barely registers). Vatel is dull and silly, but the holiday season doesn’t offer a better sets-and-costumes workshop.