Judge Erich Asperschlager loves to go clubbing.
Though billed as National Lampoon's Stoned Age, writer/director/star Adam Rifkin's movie began life as an independent project in association with the University of Texas Film Institute's in-house Burnt Orange production company. Homo Erectus, as the movie was originally named, caught Lampoon's attention after a successful showing at the Slamdance Film Festival, but, besides a general boobs 'n' farts frat boy comedic style, Rifkin's movie has little in common with National Lampoon movies of late. Rather, it owes a huge debt to comedians like Mel Brooks and Woody Allen, whose nebbishy bespectacled archetype Rifkin tries to channel throughout the film. I say "tries" because in the end, Stoned Age can't get past an adolescent fascination with the human body in all its disgusting glory. There's a certain mannered charm to the gross-out humor, but unless you really dig this style of comedy, do the local college crowd a favor and leave the last copy for them to rent on their next beer run.
Facts of the Case
Prehistoric life isn't easy for Ishbo (Adam Rifkin, Without Charlie). He doesn't want to lead the standard caveman life of clubbing women and hurling spears. He'd rather spend his days contemplating the mysteries of life and inventing things like pants and bicycles. This doesn't sit well with the rest of the tribe, especially his thick-necked older brother (Hayes MacArthur, The Game Plan) and tribal chief father (David Carradine, Kill Bill: Volume 2). To top it off, the woman he secretly pines for (Ali Larter, Heroes) has been kidnapped by a rival tribe. It's up to Ishbo to make the dangerous trek to save her and prove that man can indeed evolve into something better.
It would be unfair to approach Stoned Age with the same expectations as an art house drama or big budget blockbuster. Despite the big name recognition of its "National Lampoon" moniker, this is a small, personal movie. Rifkin, whose writing credits include Underdog and Small Soldiers, has made a very specific kind of comedy for a very specific audience. The jokes are broad and rely mostly on sight gags, bodily fluids, and his getting hit in the head repeatedly with a rock. His playground of dumb humor is not for those easily offended by things like cannibalism, bestiality, or giant piles of mammoth poop.
Rifkin fits into a larger trend of boundary-pushing comedians for whom nothing is sacred and laughs are earned more from shock than wit. And you know what? That's OK. Compared to the worst [Insert film genre here] Movie churned out by committee, Stoned Age feels like one man's vision.
To his credit, Rifkin eschews the worst modern comedy trend: pop culture references. No Britney "Spears" jokes here. Rifkin's cave-painted world is self-contained and if it references anything at all, it's the kinds of comedies made famous by old timers like Woody Allen and Mel Brooks. The only difference between Brooks's "eunuch test" sequence in History of the Word Part I and the Rifkin's encounter with the women of the Gynecropolis tribe is changing tastes and the prevalence of the "unrated" director's cut. Speaking of which, I don't know what was cut from the movie to get an R rating, but I expect it had to do with full female nudity with toupee-like prosthetic pubic hair that can only be described as Gabe Kaplan-esque.
Rifkin's deadpan Ishbo may be the center of attention, but he's surrounded by some notable actors. It must have been a real coup for Rifkin to get David Carradine, Talia Shire, Ali Larter, and Gary Busey to appear in his movie. Some people, like Tom Arnold (who plays a so-called "gay-veman"), Carol Alt (who plays Queen Fallopia), and Ron Jeremy (who plays…some guy) don't get much screen time, but I imagine seeing their names on the box will push a few unwary souls toward picking this up.
On the audio-video front, the picture is thankfully not full screen like the box says it is, and generally looks good, with nice tonal range and some convincing special effects. The 5.1 surround soundtrack doesn't do a ton with the rear speakers, but adds enough of a boost to the experience to be more than a bullet point.
The list of special features looks overwhelming at first, but most run less than two minutes. Besides the standard deleted scenes, bloopers, trailers, and outtakes, there's also an interactive comic book, rated and unrated versions of a topless women-filled music video for the original song "Caveman in Love," and videos from the "Girls of Homo Erectus" Penthouse and Maxim photo shoots that are just as revealing and titillating as you'd expect, and were probably a concession to National Lampoon.
The most interesting featurette is a 15-minute film festival Q&A with Adam Rifkin and Ain't It Cool News's "Moriarty." They discuss the winding path that brought Rifkin from writing family movies like Mouse Hunt to getting an independent movie like Stoned Age not only made, but attached to the very marketable National Lampoon's brand (spoiler: he got help from Kato Kaelin—seriously). The disc also includes a commentary with Rifkin and pals. It's full of behind the scenes info, including the fact that the movie was renamed Stoned Age for the U.S. DVD release because retailers were uncomfortable with the connotations of the original Homo Erectus title, and that National Lampoon insisted the movie get an "R" rating, which meant a day of re-shoots focused entirely on adding nudity.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I respect Adam Rifkin's vision as an independent filmmaker, but I wasn't crazy about his movie. Maybe you have different comedic tastes than I do. That's fine. Go nuts. If this movie doesn't sound like something you'd like, though, trust your instincts.
Stoned Age is a comedy that's as low-browed as its Neanderthals, but director Adam Rifkin is just self-aware enough to keep the gags from feeling cheap. Fans of this kind of movie should go ahead and rent it, but the more evolved set should look elsewhere.
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