Like, Judge David Johnson would totally drive a railroad spike through his collarbone if he has to endure any more spoofs and fawning retrospectives of the '80s.
From Neal Brennan, the co-creator of Chappelle's Show, and VH1 comes an '80s send up that sucks.
Facts of the Case
Here's the gimmick: Ben Stein shows up in the beginning, takes a few shots at VH1 and their obsession with the 1980s, and talks about a secret film from that decade that was just discovered in the vaults. He goes on to say that it apes other successful movies of a similar ilk and that he, Stein, will show up from time to time to clarify jokes and references.
The movie proper starts with the Gundersons, a family of five, heading to California. Charlie (Mikey Day) is the eldest brother, intent on being cool and dating the Kimberly (Brittany Daniel), hottest girl in school and Lori (Dominique Swain), his sister, loves to dance and is shocked to discover their new town has outlawed dancing. Charlie befriends the school loser (Battlestar Galactica's Nicki Clyne), who he enlists to help him woo Kimberly, though he has to contend with resident cool dude Kipp (Joey Kern, Cabin Fever).
Meanwhile, Lori's quest for dance freedom brings her into contact with dance instructor-turned-janitor, Gabriel (Chris Kattan). Together, they make plans to stun the town with a dance routine that will surely lead to an end of the ban. It all goes down at the school track meet, where Charlie will finally have the opportunity to best Kipp in the decathlon, giving him his choice of the gorgeous blonde or the frumpy girl who's always been there for him…
Totally Awesome is, I'd reckon, about 8 percent funny. Very few jokes elicit authentic laughter, and the gags that miss, miss wide. Frankly, I was expecting more from Brennan, who helped shape one of the funniest sketch comedy shows that ever hit the air. Seeing this film, which he co-wrote and directed makes me wonder how much of a role he actually hade in crafting Chappelle's Show. Yeah, that's harsh, but that's how lame this movie was.
What will jump out immediately is the insipidness of the setup. That whole "long lost '80s movie" shtick never goes anywhere and Brennan apparently isn't interested in prolonging the façade past the opening credits; the presence of 20-odd year old actors in the titles will eradicate any kind of hokey time capsule vibe that the filmmakers tried to generate. Stein is equally wasted, popping up only three times in the entire course of the film for a couple of throwaway jokes and a gimpy attempt at tying together the gimmick at the end. In the end, the gimmick comes across as a forced tactic to give the film a flavor of uniqueness, in an attempt to stave it off from inclusion into the hapless category where crap like Date Movie and Scary Movie II lurk (yet, to be fair, this movie was written in 2000 so it may have a grandfathered exception).
Ultimately, it's a failed attempt. Though not as abysmal as Date Movie (there are, at least, a few jokes that work), Totally Awesome has no legs. It is flush with references to well-known '80s films (The Karate Kid, Footloose, Dirty Dancing to name a few) but the spoof factor alone isn't enough to compensate for the blatant failings of the jokes. Speaking of jokes, interestingly (and, perhaps, predictably), the gags that land with the most frequency are sex and race-based, delivered with typical marksmanship by the great Tracy Morgan, who has a brief role as a black classmate helping Charlie get cooler. And I'll give props to Chris Kattan, who looked bored most of the time, yet delivered with some great physical humor.
So we'll end this on a positive note. Totally Awesome isn't a complete flop and I did guffaw from time to time, but comedies are judged on ratios, and this laugh-to-stone-face calculus was much too lopsided to earn a recommendation. Oh, and making fun of the '80s is soooooo four years ago.
The DVD is decent, sporting a solid 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and 5.1 surround. For extras: Brennan and Tracy Morgan deliver a feature commentary (mainly Brennan, though; Morgan was pretty subdued), a blooper reel is unnecessarily introduced by Joey Kern and Brennan (who annoyingly screws around with his cell phone throughout), Tracy Morgan hilariously cuts loose in "Seven Minutes of Ad Libs," Kattan contorts himself in some dance scene outtakes, and Kern gets two brief and substance-free featurettes devoted to his Kipp Vanderhoff character.
Maybe I'm grumpy because of the over-exposure of '80s nostalgia, or perhaps the trauma of Fox's That '80s Show still lingers, but I can't taken any more smarmy spoofs of legwarmers and big hair. Worse, this one isn't even funny.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Neal Brennan and Tracy Morgan
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