Paramount // 1998 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // June 20th, 2008
Roommate wanted...for a limited time only!
I'm not sure how many remember the 1998 dud Dead Man On Campus, though yours truly does. He's not really ashamed of it, though he does wonder why. Most critics spit on it, calling it a degrading, unfunny black comedy that seemed to rely on sophomoric sperm songs and bombastic bong use to get most of its laughs. That's pretty true, though for some reason I saw more in this neglected oddity than most people. Perhaps it's because I was a massive Saved By The Bell fanatic in the '90s. Maybe it's because I identified with the lead character. Regardless, Dead Man On Campus has remained in my DVD collection for a decade. Sad, I know.
Straight-arrow medical student Josh (Tom Everett Scott, Because I Said So) is starting a six-year track at Daleman College on a scholarship. His new roommate Cooper (Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Saved By The Bell) is a party freak who never studied in high school, though apparently had friends who did. (Paging Screech!) Even though they are complete opposites, Josh warms up to Coop's lifestyle...and ends up bombing his midterms. At the same time, if Cooper doesn't start attending classes, his father will put him to work in his toilet cleaning business. Still, they find a potential solution to both of their predicaments: a clause in the school charter states that if a student commits suicide, then their roommate will be rewarded straight A's. Thus, Coop and Josh set out to find a recruit.
I know what you are thinking: the premise is as believable as Paris Hilton eventually winning an Oscar. The lame story is courtesy of Anthony Abrams and Adam Larson Broder (both wrote and directed Pumpkin), who must have been on some serious mind-altering substances when they brewed this up. However, I have to give them credit for daring to write a black comedy on suicide, something most films would never do. Sure, it may still come off as a poor man's Harold And Maude without an old lady, though Dead Man On Campus still has its fair share of funny elements.
Part of this is due to Mike White, who (of all people) co-wrote the screenplay. Among other things, White later wrote the critically-acclaimed features Chuck & Buck, The Good Girl, and School Of Rock. As with all college comedies, the jokes involve drugs, drinking, sex, homophobia, and obnoxious frat boys. However, White doesn't allow things to become overly unpleasant, even if some points are genuinely nonsensical. For example, the boys actually break into a psych ward and steal medical records of all the troubled students, despite the fact that Josh essentially has access because of his major. The romantic subplots are the worst offenders, as they are set up and paid off with almost zero comprehension.
Despite the flaws -- and there are many -- I still find a certain amount of undemanding fun while watching Dead Man On Campus. Almost all of the performances are negligible, though the actors seem to be having a ball, particularly Gosselaar and Scott. By now, Gosselaar had pretty much shredded his Zack Morris persona; here, he sports dark hair (and glasses) rather than the wavy blond fibers he's known for. In the straight role, Scott fares slightly better, if only when exhibiting stoned expressions even when he isn't high. Best of all is Lochlyn Munro (White Chicks) as a truly insane frat guy with a tendency to piss in a beer bottle after emptying its contents. Every time Munro is on screen, my sides hurt.
Viewers might want to take a look just for other familiar faces. Randy Pearlstein (Chappelle's Show) is a hoot as a wacko who thinks Bill Gates wants his brain. Then there are Linda Cardellini (Scooby-Doo) and Adam Brody (The O.C.) in bit parts. Australian Poppy Montgomery (Without A Trace) is wasted as Josh's love interest, and a cameo by Kurt Loder is a given, considering this film was produced by MTV. However, hottie Alison Hannigan provides some eye candy; this is right before she became famous for having a flute fetish at band camp.
Then-film school graduate Alan Cohn (The Real World) adds some energy to the proceedings, but only just enough to not make this film tired. In fact, the sole bravo contribution by the crew is the songs. Yes, this is an MTV film, so it's expected, though music supervisors Peter Afterman and The Dust Brothers (Fight Club) manages to inject some awesome rock songs. Artists include Eve 6, Creed, The Eels, and Marilyn Manson. Be warned, however: this is a song co-written by Cohn called "Sperm," which is not only unfunny but rather sick; what's worse, it plays several times.
Paramount's digital treatment of Dead Man On Campus is expectedly lacking. On the plus side, the 1.85:1 Anamorphic widescreen print holds up just fine, with almost no spots or grain. Sonically, we have three tracks (one stereo, two mono), and optional subtitles in French; depending on your preference, all of them suit their purpose. Extras include a widescreen theatrical trailer, and...that's it. Not that I was expecting a commentary, though there are no music videos, documentaries, etc. For some reason, Paramount didn't even include a Reel Comedy featurette produced at the film's release. Still, I don't think fans will commit suicide if the studio doesn't put out a Special Edition. (One final note: when you watch, be sure to stay to the very end, past the end credits, as there is an added scene.)
As for the verdict, this is a tough choice. Well, actually not. The film is
found guilty, though Lochlyn Munro is acquitted for reason of insanity. Court is
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R