Creature Comforts


Slumming actors in safari vests stalk through the tropical overgrowth; a digitally manifested dinosaur bulldozes out of the brush; screaming victims run, leap, and dangle; the soundtrack puts crash-blisters on your ear anvil. Common fauna of the Discovery Channel, digi-dinos have become as tiresome to gaze upon as the wallpaper facing the toilet in my house. In Jurassic Park III, drama is minimal and character nonexistent. Paleontologist Sam Neill drops in on the other Costa Rican atoll populated by sauropods, coerced by ill-equipped parents Téa Leoni and William H. Macy, whose son got lost parasailing.

JP3 may be close to the purest example of what pop culture is best at producing. It’s not a movie, it’s a nitrous-powered dream probe launched into the soft cortex of every preadolescent and adolescent creature geek on Planet Earth. No particular factor stands out above the generic prehistoric delirium—certainly not the shameless franchise upgrades (the raptors now have racing stripes). The most and the least you can say for JP3 is that its condescension seems adroitly focused on fourth-graders. Perhaps the most evocative human moment is Election director Alexander Payne’s cowriting credit, conjuring visions of the undervalued auteur enjoying his new beach house in Malibu. Cashing the check must’ve spent Payne’s patience, because the action’s so simple a dog could foretell the set-piece climaxes. There are too many of those Spielbergian story plants—like that be-careful-with-the-oxygen-tanks-or-they’ll-blow-up-on-ya mousetrap from Jaws—to count. But why gripe? In an ideal world, state-of-the-fakery dinosaur movies would clog the matinees and bedazzle the PG proletariat every weekend of every year. Let there be, in 2030, a Jurassic Park XIII for my grandkids to flock to. Keep the buggers off the streets.

In its own way beyond evaluation, David Wain and Michael Showalter’s Wet Hot American Summer not only parodies Meatballs-era teen summer camp comedies, but more or less parodies the parodies—or the notion of satirizing such tripe to begin with. Wain and Showalter are vets of the comedy troupe The State, and their style of “alternative” comedy can be best characterized as free-range. Scenes erratically follow disparate modes of humor logic, regardless of what came before. Sometimes being completely unfunny is part of the program. Thus, WHAS is stocked with stereotypes (nerdy Jewish kids, teenybopper make-out sluts, dorky nice guys), but the gags run from cheap shots to interminable laughing scenes to mise-en-scène fuckups (loved Joe Lo Truglio’s obvious stuntman) to affected earnestness to full-frontal self-mockery. Inconsistency is the secret m.o., and the film exists in a humid meta-movie ether all its own. Paul Rudd’s surly stud and Amy Poehler’s on-the-edge talent-show director are reliably funny, but otherwise it’s a comedy without a map. It will be loathed, but it might be ahead of its time.

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