Monday, October 27, 2014

PCU - 1994

"PCU" - 1994
Dir. by Hart Bochner - 1 hr. 19 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

"PCU" represents one of the very first times that I remember a movie review.  I knew they existed, and read them in the paper without much thought or attention, but it was The Oregonian's contemporary movie review for "PCU" that made me want to see it.  I can't seem to track that review down at the moment, but my memory says that the reviewer gave this film an "F."  He watched "PCU," and then declared it a flat-out, complete failure as a film.  I had seen the trailer and couldn't figure out what could possibly be that awful about it.  It was that reviewer's insistence that there was nothing of merit at all in "PCU" that piqued my curiosity, and got me into the theatre to check it out for myself.

Every generation gets their own version of "Animal House," retrofitted for it's times.  In this case, a pre-frosh, Tom (Chris Young), is visiting the campus to see if it's a good fit for him.  Unfortunately for Tom, his weekend guide has been signed up for that duty as a prank, and lives in a giant house called "The Pit," populated with every kind of slacker available.  The guide, Droz (Jeremy Piven), is immediately distracted by tormenting protesters - PCU stands for Port Chester University, but it's really "Politically Correct University."  A plot between the University President Garcia-Thompson (Jessica Walter) and an underground frat weasel, Rand McPherson (David Spade) to remove the Pit residents from The Pit is put into play, all while Tom flees various groups he's offended while fleeing from other groups he's offended previously.

Glancing over the cast, it might occur to you that a film starring Jeremy Piven and David Spade might have a likability gap.  Granted, this was made before Piven was in full "Entourage" mode, and was just piling up funny bits in other people's movies, but you wouldn't, at this point in time, be watching "PCU" under those circumstances.  Thankfully, this story doesn't ask you to actually root for Droz.  You may end up doing so, but more because his character wants nothing more than to continue being a facilitator for chaos, and a fixer for those who are wronged along the way.  There's one great scene that makes it clear that you don't have to root for Droz, a flashback to when he and Rand were roommates as freshmen (which brings up the point of why Rand has also spent seven years at PCU).  Droz considers it a "nightmare," but the flashback consists of Droz howling at Rand to go to sleep so that he can sleep with some girl in peace, and Droz wrecking their room in fury that Rand won't go to sleep.  It's funny on it's own, but it's also a clever little piece that tells you the filmmakers know that you're possibly not going to like Droz anyways, so they're not even going to try to justify his behavior.


I suppose the big question is whether or not "PCU" is funny.  It's certainly derivative, although that's not a barrier to a film being an enjoyable one.  I have to say that it is funny.  Yes, there are things that haven't aged well; I don't really care about the costuming, it's accurate enough for the time, as are the stereotype groups Droz and his crew are constantly in conflict with.  The thing that's probably aged the worst are the maybe half dozen statements that begin with "times have changed" or "these days..."  I'd let that slide if it was only once, but those kinds of things are going to make younger audiences roll their eyes, and remind everyone else that this film was the product of another time.  It's hard to get mad about stuff like that - not every film is timeless and will find an audience in perpetuity, and it's probably something that no one was even thinking about as it was made.

But if you're one of those people who like dumb comedies (or "save the house" films, as this literally is), there's some good material here, like everything that Gutter (Jon Favreau, in an early film) does.  His character doesn't get the most screen time, but he's possibly the most likable guy in the entire film, mainly because he's not malicious in his intentions (and because he makes up for his mistakes by accidentally delivering George Clinton and P-Funk to the Pit Party).  Piven's motor-mouth stylings actually work pretty well, and there are a couple of pretty great bigger gags in the film (my two favorites: raining meat and torturing a donor party with the Starland Vocal Band).  There are consistently good little gags along the way (detail stuff, like a Womynist (look it up) getting mad at Rand, and just yelling "Republican!" at him), and truthfully, the silly politically-correct groups haven't really changed that much over the last twenty years, except in the way they dress.

"PCU" doesn't re-invent the wheel, but the wheels on this bus work just fine.  I don't know that anyone could come across this movie now and really get into it - it is in many ways a product of it's time (one way that's a bonus - a pretty decent soundtrack, including a Mudhoney cover of Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up").  At the same time, that damning Oregonian movie review really peeled back the curtain for me: I've always been baffled why movie critics are consistently brutal on comedies, and seem to take their mere existence as a personal affront to be met with a stream of profanities, screamed until a critic is laying in a pool of their own tears, hoarse with rage.  Droz himself has the answer to that:

Get us laid!

As funny as "PCU" is, this isn't going to be on anyone's list of greatest films.  But it's bizarre to see anyone get so worked up over a film that's main point is that people take themselves too seriously, and it's a good idea to throw back a few and watch a legendary funk band every now and then.  I hope that reviewer was just having a bad day, and eventually was able to come to terms with having to live in the same universe that yielded "PCU."

3 / 5 - TV (HD)

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