Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Wet Hot American Summer

Featured: Templeton Peck, the A-Team. Getting cornholed.

Film: Wet Hot American Summer (2001)

Director: David Wain

Starring: Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd

Written by: David Wain, Michael Showalter

With summer coming to a close, it’s time to break out one of the greatest summer camp films of all time.  Wet Hot American Summer is an ensemble film to rival all others, with actors from across the wide spectrum of entertainment popping in to crack wise.  The majority of these goofballs were spawned from The State, the MTV sketch show which would ultimately be responsible for shows like Viva Variety!, Stella, and Reno 911. Yet there are a few surprises as well.  Christopher Meloni from Law and Order: SVU shows up as a crazed cook who gains wisdom from food and talks about enacting all manner of absurdly depraved behavior.  Elizabeth Banks was running strong in her blond hussy phase of acting at this point.  And Bradley Cooper, star of such bro classics as The Hangover and The A-Team? This was his first movie, and he spent his debut bitching about the camp talent show as well as getting cornholed in a dark shed while wearing tube socks.  There’s something wonderfully appropriate about that.

If there is a protagonist in Wet Hot American Summer, it’s Coop, played by writer Michael Showalter.  Coop is a bowl-cutted camp counselor who silently lusts after a female buddy, even though she looks like kind of a mongo.  Being the last day of camp, he spends his time trying to build up the nerve to hook up with her.  The problem is that she’s dating the super-aloof, child killing Paul Rudd, a fellow counselor whose flailing antics and immunity from dignity render him the coolest kid at camp.  Even though Rudd’s character is a total man-whore, Coop’s chances of erotic success are slim.

Yet desperate love remains in the air.  Pretty much everybody is trying to hook up on this fateful last day, from the little kid who sets his sights on SNL’s Molly Shannon to the horned-up guy sporting short shorts and a permed fro who ditches his campers in whitewater rapids for a shot at love.  A couple of geeks find the strength to set their urges aside in order to save the camp from total destruction, but those kids suck.

The Greatest Comedian Ever.

The final day of camp culminates with Bradley Cooper’s talent show, which is presided over by an old Jewish comedian from the Catskills (also played by Showalter).  His old-timey cracks about “awts and fawts and crafts” and being so old that “fucking Jesus Christ was my counselor” put the kids in stitches.  Meanwhile, the geeks put their plan into action, a loser powers up, and Coop makes his move.

Ever lingering rumors have it that a sequel to Wet Hot American Summer will one day come.  Who knows if it will ever happen, but that day would be awesome.

The Designer’s Drugs: John Verdon – Think of a Number

Think of a Number

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: John Verdon – Think of a Number

Anno: 2010

John Verdon’s debut novel is a cautionary tale of lopsided storytelling.  The meat of this book is a mystery which lures the reader with false trails and bizarre circumstances.  The puzzle is an intriguing one, and it is solved with solemn reason that piques the intellect.  Problem is, just about everything else in this book is crap.

Retired New York detective Dave Gurney is the hero of the story, sought out by an old college acquaintance to lend his thoughts on a strange matter.  This old classmate, who suffered through some lost years before emerging as a self-help guru, received a mysterious threat in the mail, one which includes a baffling mind reading magic trick.  What begins as possible harassment, or possible extortion, soon sweeps Gurney into something much darker.  Clues are strewn throughout the story, but as the adversary toys with those chasing him, so does Verdon toy with the reader’s judgment.  On the merits of the mystery itself, he has crafted a worthy tale.

Yet there’s so much going against the main plot.  Starting from its horribly overwrought opening, Think of a Number falls prey to ridiculous amounts of exposition.  There’s a lot of dialogue between Gurney and others on the case, but that isn’t the problem.  Besides the presence of a few jackasses on the team – most notably a doofus referred to as Tom Cruise’s clone and a preening D.A. who seems disturbingly excited about the adversary’s reign of terror – the conversation stays largely on target and advances the story instead of hindering it.  The problem is when every minute flicker of thought in Dave Gurney’s head blazes through the narrative, dragging the story to a halt.  It’s okay to show Gurney’s humanity, his frailties and damage, but whole chapters are devoted to the slightest provocation sending him spiraling into his life story.

There are a few other screwups that stick out in the tale, and though they’re not as bad as the overnarration they severely undermine the story’s gravity.  The story’s blatant lifting of a plot point from The Shining – the movie, not the book – is pretty galling.  Furthermore, a member of the supporting cast is a clear-cut New York cop named Randy Clamm.  Really.  Yet worse than this porn star nomenclature is a gay, gay, gay witness whom Gurney comes across while on his quarry’s trail.  How over the top is he?  Well, his name is Bruce, for starters, and he runs a bed and breakfast that serves as a fully immersive shrine to the Wizard of Oz. And when Gurney arrives on the scene, the first thing that Bruce does is flip out about his missing ruby slippers.  Seriously.

In all, Verdon could become a great mystery writer – provided he gets a handle on everything else.