Film Reviews

The importance of being Pauly

Flashbulbs and teen squeals announce Pauly Shore's arrival at Planet Hollywood in the West End.

Amid a journalistic sea of TV and still cameras and a small cluster of mostly young fans, the 27-year-old former MTV VJ and star of numerous slapstick movies--the latest of which, Jury Duty, opens April 12 at a mall near you--strides to the stage. He murmurs a few quiet words to his publicist, then sits down before a glass of designer water and plays it cool.

Pauly was once known for his distinctive heavy dreadlocks, but his last picture, In the Army Now, required that they be sacrificed in the name of verisimilitude. He's kept the short look for his latest screen outing, and the sight of his near-bald crop-top prompts one reporter to ask, "Heyyy, Pauleee...What happened to the lockage?" Pauly rubs his head and smiles wistfully, improbably evoking Takashi Shimura in The Seven Samurai.

But this comedy warrior is all business, playing the event like a press conference, not a stand-up gig. There's a reason why the media have gathered to pay him tribute: this evening, Planet Hollywood's memorabilia collection--which boasts such items as a life-size latex replica of Sylvester Stallone in Demolition Man--will become the final resting place for a prop gavel used in Jury Duty by elderly character actor Abe Vigoda, who plays a crusty judge.

Dallas promotions agency Gaylersmith has presaged the event with a local PR blitz; the past couple of days have witnessed a "Party with Pauly" radio contest and multiple talk show appearances.

Unfortunately, the big guns of the North Texas media must be at home watching reruns of "Full House." Most of the journalists present work for high-school and college newspapers, and the coveted front row of press seats is occupied by two guys from the Denison Herald.

Pauly chats with the press for a while, concentrating exclusively on the film, casually steering the conference away from his personal life and back to his onscreen chemistry with costars Tia Carrerre and Stanley Tucci, then takes a stab at relevance by suggesting that Jury Duty is comedy with a subtle purpose--a film that pokes fun at "How stupid the jury system has become."

Then out come the Jury Duty girls, two short, voluptuous young blondes in midriff-knotted T-shirts, one emblazoned with Jury, the other with Duty. They stand close together, and the title of the film appears, spread over four "C" cups.

"We've been getting into trouble because we keep getting mixed up," says the woman whose shirt reads Jury. "I mean Duty Jury, you know."

When Jury and Duty produce The Gavel, Pauly is visibly taken aback.
"That's the real gavel, man!" he exclaims, genuinely delighted.
In five years, Pauly Shore has moved up the pop culture food chain from stand-up comic to VJ to comedy show host (of "Totally Pauly") to big-screen star. According to such pop culture authorities as Spy magazine and The New York Times, he is a poster child for the Dumbing of America--an icon of cluelessness cut from the same cloth as Forrest Gump, Ace Ventura, and Wayne and Garth.

His persona, which he refers to as The Weasel, alternates between lighthearted mockery of authority figures and institutions, clueless mischief, and occasional bursts of average-guy wisdom. Although Pauly says he's seen "one or two" of his movies, the plots of his feature films follow a definite Jerry Lewis pattern, placing the star in various stock comedic situations and surrounding him with straight men.

But where Lewis' idiot man-child character confirmed the stupidity of the institutions that tried to break him by digging in his heels and forcing them to accommodate his warped view of reality, Pauly's heroes usually quit resisting early on and happily join the status quo.

In his first major screen role in Encino Man, Pauly played a valley dude who taught a thawed-out caveman how to live in a world of malls and fast food and be happy. Although the film presented him as an antiestablishment prankster, he ended up acting as the Confucius of modern American suburban life, teaching the bewildered Neanderthal how to make sense of his new world and fit in.

In Son-in-Law and In the Army Now, his character wandered into two rigid American subcultures--the rural small town and the armed forces--and quickly proved he could exist inside them without much conflict. He even become a leader of sorts, inspiring other characters to act more spontaneous and less priggish. His most burning ambition is to get people to lighten up a little.

Whatever his secret is, it seems to be working: although savaged by most critics, his modestly budgeted films are consistently profitable, doing decent business in theaters and cleaning up on video. Perhaps because Pauly's characters are sweet-natured sprites with a playground sense of humor, a large percentage of the actor's following is of high-school age or younger.

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Ronald Pogue