If you ever need to sober up quick, come down hard, flush out your system, convince the cops or your boss or the feds that you’ve not indulged in marijuana, might I recommend taping your eyes wide open and taking in Super Troopers 2? The sequel is so profound a buzzkill they could sell it at GNC as a detox kit. No high can survive it. It slays fun dead, grinds cannabinoids to dust, and maybe even wipes the mind of the warmth you might hold for the original Super Troopers. That chipper, defiantly inconsequential stoner comedy captured in its warm aimlessness and eruptions of dada something like the feeling of wondering, on a giggly day off, whether the edibles have kicked in yet. The follow-up, arriving seventeen years later, never kicks in. It’s sober as a judge, even during its rote scenes of drug freak-outs.
Like the first Super Troopers, from 2001, this edition is directed by Jay Chandrasekhar and written and performed by the Broken Lizard comedy collective, of which Chandrasekhar is a member. Broken Lizard are distinguished by a farty, fratty, childish sensibility — and I mean “childish” in the sweet and wide-eyed sense as much as I do the sense that they’re obsessed with dicks. The first film was more a playdate than a narrative, a what-if? goof that imagined a squad of Vermont highway patrolmen who passed their days pranking and punking one another and the motorists they pulled over. It could have been called Improv Cops, with the Broken Lizard bros tricked out with shades and ’staches as they played short-form comedy games with their guest stars.
One highlight, limply reprised here, found one cop confounding a citizen by slipping meows into the usual “license and registration” patter. Another showed us two pairs of troopers taking the better part of an afternoon to haze a carload of stoners, using their authority to stage ingenious, repetitive scenes certain to send a paranoid mind unraveling. The movie was chill and inviting, a cult film that indoctrinated viewers, and gave us reason to get on its wavelength. For all its raunch and male nudity and 38 Special bar rock, its impish instincts dated back to Harpo and Chico: Its point was to relish watching clever clowns dick people around. Its funniest joke, to my mind, was that it was a cop comedy that didn’t even bother to satirize anything.
Nothing’s chill in Super Troopers 2. The film opens with a dreary series of fake-outs and fantasies, culminating in a gunfight and car chase that suggest Broken Lizard would rather be making a different kind of movie. It’s too haphazardly staged and shot to be exciting but too elaborate to be charming. Then, with much rushed shouting, a plot kicks in, a dumb one even by the standards of Super Troopers. Turns out that a stretch of southern Quebec is actually in Vermont, and the squad — disbanded between movies — has been asked to patrol it as it’s annexed back by the U.S. That means that rather than absolutely nothing at all, this Super Troopers is very much about something: the culture clash between the States and Canada, which here is reduced to every stereotype a couple of comedy writers might puke onto a whiteboard in the first five minutes after getting the assignment.
Cue the fake French accents, “soar-ee” as “sorry,” cracks about hockey and healthcare, a seemingly endless bear attack scored to the roots-rock equivalent of Benny Hill’s theme, much ado about the metric system, and a Kid in the Hall in a thankless cameo. As apparently mandated by NAFTA, any American entertainment that involves crossing into Canada must involve a trip to a brothel; this one, while admirably egalitarian in its nudity, collapses almost immediately into a brawl too corny for a Cannonball Run movie.
Broken Lizard are egoless to a fault: They only bother conferring a memorable trait on one or two of their characters per film. One trooper gets a French-Canadian love interest; one gets tied down in front of the blade in a sawmill, as in all timber-country cartoons and melodramas; one starts taking female hormone pills and suffers a side effect the film calls “bitchiness”; one yells a lot. Super Troopers found these comics hanging out, fooling around, testing the limits of film storytelling; their confidence seems to have corroded and now they seem desperate to please. Breeziness is now pushiness, with the better part of an hour passing before we get scenes in the vein of the first films, of the cops harassing strangers just for the hell of it. Even then, though, too many of the jokes depend upon callbacks, upon your knowledge of the first film. This sequel is probably incomprehensible if you don’t recall much of the original. Like old friends from high school who aren’t much fun anymore, Broken Lizard seem more comfortable recalling the good times than generating them.
Chandrasekhar has, since the first film, improved as a director. His episodes of Community and Arrested Development exhibit a crisp precision that’s wholly absent here. Still, he was done no favors by the projectionist at the screening I attended, where the film was shown in the wrong aspect ratio. At least, I hope that’s what happened — it’s either that or Chandrasekhar hates letting us see his actors’ foreheads. Projection quality has dipped so precipitously at American multiplexes that I was giving him the benefit of the doubt even before a bit involving subtitles fell flat because only the tops of the letters appeared at the screen’s bottom edge. One set-piece comedy moment, in the brothel sequence, involves Rob Lowe as a Canadian mayor booping, with his finger, the exposed penis of a sex worker. But said penis dangles so low in the frame that I fear I cannot confirm for you whether you actually see it in the movie. Lowe handling another man onscreen might be a step forward for American screen comedy, but it’s outpaced, I fear, by an even greater leap backward: Far too often, when I go to a multiplex, the movie’s projected wrong, usually through a too-dim 3-D projector. Even Super Troopers 2 deserves better.
Super Troopers 2
Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar
Opens April 20
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