Never before have I seen a movie try so hard to be deliberately awful -- and succeed so wildly -- as "Wet Hot American Summer," a nickel-budget sketch-comedy spoof of early '80s teen sex-at-camp romps like "Little Darlings" and "Meatballs."
Created by veterans of cable "Saturday Night Live" knock-offs "The State" and "Upright Citizens' Brigade," it's a loose jumble of too-obvious jabs at the genre through stock characters in grossly under-rehearsed vignettes that are absentmindedly filmed and edited together without rhythm and apparently at random.
You've got your dorky virgin (Michael Showalter) making an ass of himself for the unattainable girl (Marguerite Moreau). She prefers the inimical, self-styled stud in the jean jacket (the under-appreciated Paul Rudd in the movie's only truly funny performance). He, in turn, prefers the company of your ubiquitous pubescent sluts in tube tops.
You've also got your high-profile comedians like Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce and Molly Shannon who willingly make complete fools of themselves by badly improvising through half-baked camp counselor roles. It quickly becomes clear that they must be appearing as an I'll-work-for-scale favor to director David Wain (co-writer of the so-called script with "State" mate Showalter), whom they all know from comedy circles.
In the humor department, "Wet Hot" is not a complete dud. There are great laughs to be had from the costumes alone (Izods, cut-offs with the pockets hanging out, baseball jerseys) and occasional flashes of resourceful ridicule. "Let's all promise," one over-enthusiastic camper suggests, "that 10 years from today we'll all meet here again and see what kind of people we've blossomed into!" To which another replies, "What time? I've got something at 11 that I can't cancel."
But for every unexpectedly clever and off-the-wall joke, there are half a dozen that are lifeless and lame ("Hi Henry," says Garofalo. "Call me Henry," says Pierce.) or just time-wasting nonsense, like the conspicuously laughless motorcycle chase that ends suddenly because a single bail of hay blocks the road. This is comedy?
"Wet Hot American Summer" is pathetically self-satisfied with its idiocy -- as if the irony of making a bad movie on purpose automatically makes it shrewdly funny. But the bad acting, the structureless script, the frequently trite-on-top-of-trite lampoonery and the utterly incompetent editing -- intentional or not -- make the picture very nearly unwatchable.