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'Orange County'

Teen comedy lacks a single funny moment

Friday, January 11, 2002

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

If the movie capital of America were Pittsburgh instead of Hollywood, the title of this film would be "Westmoreland County," and folks would flock to see it from as far as Zelienople -- but no farther. Geography is what it's all about in "Orange County," a truly dreadful comedy from Jake Kasdan, son of "Big Chill" writer-director Lawrence.

'Orange County'

RATING: PG-13 for mild violence, sexual content and language

STARRING: Colin Hanks, Jack Black, Catherine O'Hara, Schuyler Fisk, John Lithgow, Lily Tomlin, Chevy Chase

DIRECTOR: Jake Kasdan

WEB SITE: www.orangecounty



Jake's not the only chip off a famous block here. The thing is full of juniors and junior misses: Colin Hanks (son of Tom) has the lead role of surfer Shaun, who yearns to get out of Orange County and become a writer. Girlfriend Schuyler Fisk (daughter of Sissy Spacek) is behind him all the way.

Shaun was a shoo-in for Stanford -- but his high-school counselor-from-hell sent them the wrong transcript. Drunk mom (Catherine O'Hara) and repulsive fat-slob brother Lance (Jack Black) ruin his second-chance meeting with Stanford big wigs.

No alternative for Shaun but to drive up there and force his way in, getting the dean (Harold Ramis) high on pills while Lance accidentally sets the admissions department on fire. Yuk-yuk.

Among the wasted talent in bit parts are Lily Tomlin as the counselor and Chevy Chase as the principal. John Lithgow as the divorced father is utilized more, not to his credit. (Do you think Lithgow is as hugely overrated as I do?)

Moral of the story: "Even in a world that's stupid and selfish, there's still hope." If only the same could be said for teen films -- and what passes for wisdom in them -- nowadays.

Ten years ago on a book tour, they sent me to Orange County for a publicity gig, and it took FIVE HOURS to get there and back from L.A. Tibet is no more remote. It's an "out of it" place with peculiar regional relevance to Angelenos who know and love/hate its super-suburban theme parks and citrus groves. But the sociocultural fascination of Orange County for the rest of the world is a presumption disguised as an assumption.

Director Kasdan showed promise at 23 with his debut feature "Zero Effect" (1998) -- but breaks that promise. He and writer Mike White have managed the impossible in a comedy: There's not a single funny line or situation in "Orange County's" 90-minute running time. Nor is there any evidence of comic skill from the Hanks or Spacek offspring.

"I don't need to go to Stanford to be a writer," our hero concludes -- and it's the truth.

In Hollywood, you need only go to your parents.

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