Orange County (United States, 2002)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Most parents, on at least a subconscious level, would be happy if their children, when grown, followed in their footsteps. Such a career choice by one's offspring, is, after all, a kind of validation of one's own decisions. So it must be with some degree of pride that Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Sissy Spacek, and Lawrence Kasdan view Orange County, because all of them have a son or daughter involved in the production. Sadly, however, while the movie may represent a showcase of second-generation talent, that's about all it really works as. In fact, were it not for the high profile names of "Hanks" and "Kasdan", this would be a perfect candidate for a direct-to-video release.

There are times when Orange County tantalizes us into believing that it's going to rise above the low level occupied by most card-carrying members of the bloated "teen comedy" club. Unfortunately, such glimpses are more the exception than the rule. Despite its occasional stabs at taking a more thoughtful approach, this is still a movie in which a woman nearly drinks urine, a popular cheerleader-type has sex with grunge outcasts, and a old man is repeatedly hit on the head with heavy objects. Worse still, because this movie has been forced to carry a PG-13 rating (lest it be unavailable to its target audience), it is unable to attempt anything inventively raunchy. So we're once again led down the same blind alley into which we have been trapped by countless other low-brow teen comedies.

Colin Hanks plays Shaun Brumder, a senior at Vista Del Mar High School. One day, while out with his surfer dude buddies on the beach, Shaun finds a copy of the book "Straight Jacket" by Marcus Skinner, and it changes his life. He reads it 52 times, and, inspired by what it has to say and how it says it, he decides to become an author. Beyond that, he dreams of being accepted at Stanford, where Skinner teaches. His school guidance counselor assures him that he's a shoo-in - until she accidentally sends the wrong transcript. The result is that one day Shaun finds himself reading a rejection letter. Undaunted, he decides to pursue alternative means of getting into Stanford - including an attempt to persuade his father (John Lithgow) to donate a huge amount of money to the school, a misfired try to woo a member of the board of directors, and a road trip in which he; his girlfriend, Ashley (Schuyler Fisk, Sissy Spacek's daughter); and his brother, Lance (Jack Black), arrive at the college and wreak havoc.

Every once in a while, Orange County gives the impression that it's about to rise above the muck in which its roots lie, but it never quite makes it. There are some worthwhile scenes, including a few early in the film, and one important one late where Shaun has a heart-to-heart discussion with Marcus (played by an unbilled Kevin Kline). And, from time to time, the movie talks a little about what it's like to be a writer. (One nugget of wisdom offered: "Every good writer has a conflicted relationship with the place where he grew up.") Unfortunately, the pratfalls and crude humor keep getting in the way. This is no Wonder Boys. And, for a movie that's supposed to be a comedy, Orange County scores surprisingly low on the laugh-meter. The usually reliable Jack Black is good for a few hearty chuckles, but, for the most part, his performance veers between silly and irritating. Colin Hanks doesn't show nearly the aptitude of his mother or father (Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks), but Schulyer Fisk (last seen as the "best friend" in Snow Day) impresses. Catherine O'Hara (as Shaun's mother) and John Lithgow do about what one would expect from them.

As befits a film made by the son of one of Hollywood's most respected directors, Orange County is peppered with high-profile cameos. Ben Stiller, Lily Tomlin, Harold Ramis, Leslie Mann, Jane Adams, Chevy Chase, Garry Marshall, and the aforementioned Kevin Kline all make appearances. (This is not Kasdan's debut - that was the 1998 comedy/mystery Zero Effect.) Despite its upside and its short running length (80 minutes), Orange County still feels like an exercise in "been there, done that". It's derivative and tiresome with little more to offer than one might anticipate from a teen comedy road trip.

Orange County (United States, 2002)

Director: Jake Kasdan
Cast: Colin Hanks, Schuyler Fisk, Catherine O'Hara, Jack Black, John Lithgow
Screenplay: Michael White
Cinematography: Greg Gardiner
Music: Michael Andrews
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Run Time: 1:20
U.S. Release Date: 2002-01-11
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1