Janeane Garofalo — who we thought we would get tired of a few years ago, but whom we still love — is perfectly suited for a spoofy parody like “Wet Hot American Summer.” The film’s purpose is to mock the conventions of ’80s “summer camp” movies, and Garofalo is the ultimate self-aware performer. When she spouts a cliché or does something trite, we know that SHE knows how lame it is. There’s never any doubt it’s a satire, which eliminates any possible awkwardness.
Of course, there would be little doubt that “Wet Hot American Summer” is a satire even without Garofalo. Just a glance at the heavily feathered hairstyles or now-hideous fashions of 1981, brought to life vividly on the big screen, and we know they have GOT to be kidding.
“Wet Hot American Summer” takes place over the course of one day: the last day at Camp Firewood, to be exact. As the camp radio announcer tells everyone at the film’s outset, it’s their last day to find love, if they haven’t found it already.
Garofalo plays Beth, the indifferent camp director (she smokes with the kids and only half-heartedly reminds the boys they’re not supposed to be in the girls’ cabins’ overnight) who notices, on this last day, a dashing physics professor named Neuman (David Hyde Pierce) at an adjoining camp. She learns astrophysics in order to impress him, and he learns the history of summer camps to woo her. He comes in handy later, when he and the camp’s nerdy kids learn that a piece of Skylab is plummeting toward them and they have to save the day.
The counselors and kids are equally interested in romance. Hot, dumb, mean stud Andy (Paul Rudd) is increasingly bored with his hot girlfriend Katie (Marquerite Moreau), which is fine with Coop (Michael Showalter), a Screech-like fellow who has been unlucky at love this summer.
There’s also the desperately horny Victor (Ken Marino), who has a chance with slutty Abby (Marisa Ryan), if only he can get out of taking a group of kids rafting. Meanwhile, Ben (Bradley Cooper) and McKinley (Michael Ian Black) have already found love of the homosexual kind.
All the stock characters are included. There’s a psychotic Nam-veteran camp cook (Christopher Meloni), a basket-case divorcee counselor (Molly Shannon), a space-cadet weird kid (Kevin Sussman), a drama-freak trying to organize the camp talent show (Amy Poehler), and all the morons already mentioned.
There’s random making out, awful talent-show numbers (including a hysterical “Day by Day” from “Godspell,” complete with back-up singers performing the words in sign language), and a joke about all the counselors being named Debbie.
The film is sloppy at times — in one scene, some shots indicate rain is falling while others don’t — and more than a few jokes fall flat. But a surprisingly high percentage of jokes succeed brilliantly. ClichÃ©s are skewered mercilessly and with deadly precision. The large cast is earnest and focused, with no one clowning for the camera or jockeying for star status. The ensemble functions smoothly, making us wonder which film genres still remained unparodied. We never would have thought of the “summer camp” genre, but we’re glad someone did.
B+ (; )