Saturday, August 4, 2012

Super Troopers - 2001

"Super Troopers" - 2001
Dir. by Jay Chandrasekhar - 1 hr. 40 min.

Original Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

It's so tricky to do a screwball comedy featuring authority figures as the protagonists.  The underdog status of the rough-around-the-edges lead is so central to the format that it's almost unthinkable to flip it.  "Super Troopers" manages to do just that, and even more impressively, is a really good comedy at the same time.

The plot is only half (or less) of the story: a pack of Vermont state troopers are locked in a turf war with the local police, with the threat of closure hanging over their office.  They stumble across a murder, and then a significant amount of drugs, and the two seem related.  Piecing the two crimes together seems to be the key to keeping their jobs, and they set up a publicity bust for the Governor's (played by Lynda Carter) benefit.  But that's really just the background for prank-oriented stunts.  The troopers all more or less have a flair for the dramatic, leading each other on high-speed chases and engaging in other hi-jinks, which is the difference between the troopers and the humorless, somewhat mentally-challenged local police.

I don't know what the golden number is of classic humor scenes a comedy film needs to have in order to be successful, but "Super Troopers" kicks off with an all-time great, involving Thorny (director Jay Chandrasekhar) and Rabbit (Erik Stolhanske) pulling over a trio of stoned college students.

Opening Scene

I don't think that I'm overstating things at all; this scene is in my top five comedy scenes of all-time.  It's bizarre, surreal, skillfully assembled, hilarious, and manages to keep topping itself.  It's one thing to be able to break off a couple of good one-liners, but the ability to take a situation and keep cranking up the tension over and over again is a rare one.   It helps that half of the cast is a comedy troupe, Broken Lizard, and you may know them from other films like "Beerfest" or "The Slammin' Salmon."  But since "Super Troopers" was likely the first film that anyone saw from these guys (they did have one previous film, "Puddle Cruiser," a low-budget affair), this trait shows off a high-level of skill.  It's not surprising that director Chandrasekhar has had a career directing non-Broken Lizard material.

As for the rest of the film, it's pretty good.  The opening is so strong that the rest of the material never quite gets back to that level, but "Super Troopers" is a very funny movie throughout.  It doesn't lag, and the main non-Lizard cast members (Brian Cox, Marisa Coughlan, and Daniel von Bargen) do a good job.  But I still marvel at the idea of making a film where an audience is expected to get behind what are literally authority figures.  There's something inherently wrong with authority figures deliberately messing with people, but pitting the troopers against the dim-witted local cops (and against a drug-smuggling ring) works.  It also helps that most of them aren't malicious about enforcing the law, other than Farva (Brian Heffernan), but none of his co-workers really tolerate him, either.  The line is clear: clever and playful is okay, dumb and mean (NSFW) is not.

So far, "Super Troopers" is the best film that Broken Lizard is responsible for.  That opening scene has bought them a lifetime pass from me, and I keep hoping that they'll be able to top it someday.  But even other than that, this is a really funny movie, and has held up for me over repeated viewings.  That's a real success for any comedy, to still work well when the element of surprise is gone.

3.5 / 5 - Streaming

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