Broken Lizard's Club Dread
Director : Jay Chandrasekhar
Screenplay : Broken Lizard
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2004
Stars : Bill Paxton (Coconut Pete), Jay Chandrasekhar (Putman), Steve Lemme (Juan), Paul Soter (Dave), Brittany Daniel (Jenny), Erik Stolhanske (Sam), Kevin Heffernan (Lars), Jordan Ladd (Penelope)
Thank God for Bill Paxton, the anchor of Broken Lizard’s Club Dread, a generally limp horror-comedy about a homicidal maniac loose on a paradisiacal resort island. Paxton plays Coconut Pete, an aging, one-time ’70s folk-rock star whose peculiar brand of stoner sing-along music was usurped by Jimmy Buffet. He has since moved full-time into entertaining at Pleasure Island, his own private resort island just off Costa Rica. In this role, Paxton provides virtually all the movie’s laughs with his washed-up party animal ethics and I-own-this-island-so-it-doesn’t-matter-what-I-look-like shaggy hair and hang-dog clothes; he’s a sad sack who’s too busy having a good time to notice.
Club Dread is the creation of Broken Lizard, a five-man comedy troupe who formed at Colgate College and earned national recognition when its first major film, Super Troopers (2001), was picked up at Sundance, became a modest theatrical hit, and has since developed a cult following on DVD. Not having seen Super Troopers, I can’t say whether Club Dread is a comic improvement for the group, but I can say that it’s not that funny, doesn’t break any new ground, and goes on for at least 20 minutes longer than it probably should. However, the fact that Broken Lizard feels the need to brand their movie in the same fashion as National Lampoon or Monty Python, despite their short tenure on the pop culture scene, suggests that they feel they are carving a real niche for themselves.
As a parody of horror movie conventions, Club Dread does get a few laughs. The filmmakers wisely choose not to spoof specific horror movies, since that well has pretty much been sucked dry by the three Scary Movie movies; instead, they focused on the basic tenets of the hack-n-slash formula, which of course involves lots of sex and lots of post-coital dismemberment. This allows the filmmakers to give us lots of sex and violence and then make fun of that sex and violence by making it just silly enough to transcend the generic constraints of seriousness. Granted, some of the gore is surprisingly gory for a comedy, but without the unsparing over-the-topness of Monty Python’s blood-spurting Sam Peckinpah parodies. It exists in an uncomfortable middle ground between gore that is intended to gross you out and gore than is intended to make you laugh.
The five members of Broken Lizard play the central roles of the resort staff members. Jay Chandrasekhar, who also directed, plays Putman, the resort’s uptight, dreadlocked British tennis pro who longs for Jenny (Brittany Daniel), the aerobics guru who has slept with just about everyone on the island except Putman. Now she has her eye on Lars (Kevin Heffernan), the new pony-tailed masseur who knows more than a few erotic tricks of the trade. Steve Lemme plays Juan, the token Latin lover; Paul Soter is Dave, Coconut Pete’s nephew who doesn’t do much since he’s Pete’s nephew; and Erik Stolhanske is Sam, the leader of the “fun police.”
Most of the movie’s comedy is just too limp to be memorable, although Putman’s attempting to ward off the killer with tennis balls and Juan’s straight-faced explanation of how he wound up in prison are both comic highlights. As a whole, the movie goes on for so long in dragging out its “who’s the killer?” mystery plot that it starts to grate by the end. Luckily, Coconut Pete stays alive more than long enough to provide Bill Paxton with plenty of scenery to chew, which is about the only thing I can recommend. Just remembering his comically pained reaction to an overenthusiastic guest who joyfully cries out that he play “Margaritaville,” rather than his own hit, “Piña Coloda-burg,” almost makes having sat through the rest of the movie worth it.
Copyright ©2004 James Kendrick
All images Copyright ©2004 Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc.