Film Reviews

Mr. Butthead goes to Washington

You know how Wayne and Garth aren't quite as funny as Beavis and Butthead, and how Bill and Ted aren't as funny as Wayne and Garth, and how Pauly Shore isn't funny at all.

Well, Dags and Reggie aren't even as funny as Pauly Shore--although they certainly try. Dags and Reggie (Jeremy Renner and Rob Moore) are the chemically happy ringleaders in National Lampoon's profoundly moronic comedy about a crew of horny, beer-worshiping high-school pranksters who accidentally wind up as pawns in the partisan jockeying between the president of the United States and a rival senator--read Clinton vs. Dole.

The premise of National Lampoon's Senior Trip is actually a candid and appropriately bleak read on Washington politics. When the smart girl at Fairmont High (Fiona Loewi) sends a 500-word essay about education to the president, the commander-in-chief is so impressed that he invites her and her classmates to Washington. It's the perfect ploy to hype his education bill, or so he thinks.

The president's rival, Senator Lerman, however, knows full well that this lot of dim-witted stoners will humiliate and embarrass the president and ultimately derail his education bill. So he coddles the so-called students, preparing them to testify in Congress. At the same time, Lerman, who's plotting his own run for the presidency, concocts an alternative bill on education. And in it is a crooked clause that allows a fast-food chain to transform America's public-school lunch rooms into greasy cash-cow burger joints. The scheming senator lays his plan on the burger-chain exec and extorts a hefty campaign contribution for his presidential bid.

Unfortunately, writers Roger Kumble and I. Marlene King don't pursue what could have been material for compelling political satire. Instead, they use the master cheat-sheet for offensive teen films and lounge in the usual stereotypes: the drill-sergeant high-school principal, the repellent fat kid, the brainy girl who's really a vixen in librarian glasses and, finally, the uptight brown-nosing Yale wannabe who offers blow jobs to his superiors at the slightest suggestion.

The only member of the crowd with any appeal or character potential is a sullen black student who sports a Charlie Parker-Black Panther-existential persona and distances himself from his slobbering classmates. Unfortunately, whatever the writers had in mind disappears as randomly as it is introduced, and our brewing boheme is eventually swept up in Reggie and Dags' bland zaniness.

Comparing Reggie and Dags to the superior Beavis and Butthead shows why Senior Trip's juvenile delinquent heroes are such comedic failures. Beavis and Butthead are motivated purely by a desire to seek pleasure and entertain themselves. This gluttonous drive thoroughly makes up their unfettered existence and, as a result, the juvenile pair are believable. Beavis and Butthead are grotesque, demented exaggerations of our own vices transformed into living identities. They're sitting on that couch ogling the television while we sit on ours, ogling them and laughing at their lives.

In comparison, Reggie and Dags are motivated by a self-conscious and desperate desire to make the audience laugh, and they continually mimic Beavis and Butthead in an attempt to do so. We remain unmoved because we don't believe in them--their personas as fun-seeking selfish teenagers don't hold up. The minute they invite us to laugh at them they become hired clowns rather than characters. Real characters like Beavis and Butthead would never even notice our presence. Heck, they're too busy watching MTV. Reggie and Dags are busy glancing out at the audience to see if we're laughing. We're not.

The only funny bit in this movie involves Travis, the school crossing guard, who moonlights as a demented "Star Trek" fan. Travis, frantically played by "Kids in the Hall" crack-up Kevin McDonald, lives in a fantasy dialogue with Mr. Spock and hangs out with a life-size Lt. Uhura sex doll. Suddenly and inexplicably, he is convinced that Reggie is a villainous Klingon and must be destroyed. A brief scene in this psycho-trekkie's fully equipped U.S.S. Enterprise apartment is funny and strangely original.

Meanwhile, Tommy Chong--of Cheech and Chong--makes an extended cameo as a burned-out bus driver. Unfortunately, the infamous stoner has nothing to say. Blurting out pitiful come-ons like, "The magic word is rock and roll" and "Let's party" and "This is the magic bus," Chong announces his own meandering irrelevance--and the film's.

For the most part, Senior Trip is a harmless throwaway, mining the past 15 years of teen-party films for fart gags, decadent drinking scenarios, locker-room sexual innuendo and painfully contrived one-liners. "We're mature, fully developed adults," a shapely female student says while the camera lingers on her boobs. Senior Trip is a distant offspring to its madcap predecessor, Animal House. By the time Principal Moss (Matt Frewer) apologizes for treating the kids of Fairmont High badly and teams up with them to testify in Congress and expose the corruption of Washington politics, Beavis would be begging Butthead to "Change the channel damn it! This movie sucks."

National Lampoon's Senior Trip. New Line Cinema. Jeremy Renner, Rob Moore, Kevin McDonald. Written by Roger Kumble and I. Marlene King. Directed by Kelly Makin. Now showing.

Josh Feit is a freelance writer living in Washington,

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Josh Feit