You can tell “Orange County” is from MTV Films because the rock soundtrack barely stops for a minute, there’s a lot of drinking and drug use among the teen-age characters, and someone inadvertently almost ingests a cup of urine. The MTV Films affiliation becomes less clear when you realize how enjoyable the movie is.
It’s about an Orange County, Calif., high school student named Shaun (Colin Hanks) who has been inspired by a Stanford professor-turned-novelist Marcus Skinner (Kevin Kline) to renounce surfing and become a writer. His goal: Get into Stanford and study under Skinner.
Alas, a mix-up with his transcripts causes Shaun to be rejected. His alcoholic mother (Catherine O’Hara), stoner brother (Jack Black) and absentee father (John Lithgow), rather than helping him, merely give him more incentive to leave home. His girlfriend (Schuyler Fisk) is supportive but rather useless. His surfer friends … well, forget about it.
So for a while, the film is all farce and no brains as we follow Shaun’s efforts to get into Stanford. He tries cozying up to a schoolmate’s grandparents, who are on the board; he tries visiting the dean of admissions at home; he tries a lot of more unusual things than that. And it is funny. Jack Black and Catherine O’Hara give all-out performances and make dumb lines better. There are amusing cameos from an impressive array of stars, including Lily Tomlin, Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, Garry Marshall and Ben Stiller, some of whom appear literally in only scene apiece.
Then the film decides not to leave well enough alone and goes a different route, turning into a lesson about the importance of home and family. It is considerably less funny, and given the aforementioned urine jokes, we’re not liable to be in the mood for poignancy now anyway. What I thought was merely a brief tangent turned out to be a long tangent, and then to be a different direction altogether. The “I’ll get into Stanford if it’s the last thing I do” theme may not have been brilliant, but it was funny.
Putting aside the wrong turns near the end, “Orange County” winds up with more pluses than minuses. The performances are amiable and committed, and the comedy more often than not hits the bullseye.
B- (; )