Dir. by Ivan Reitman - 1 hr. 34 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
I still don't know what "Meatballs" is about, or even why the film is called "Meatballs." It's a product of a bygone era, a kind of genre film that doesn't really exist anymore: the summer camp comedy. And to be entirely clear, I am not clamoring for a triumphant return of summer camp comedies. I'm reasonably sure the only reason that anyone remembers or watches "Meatballs" at this point is because of Bill Murray.
A bunch of kids attend a $1000/week summer camp, I think (but that might be the rival camp?). The guy who owns the camp is named Morty (Harvey Atkin), and is constantly being pranked by activities director Tripper (Bill Murray), who also is trying to woo Roxanne (Kate Lynch). One of the kids, Rudy (Chris Makepeace), doesn't fit in, tries to flee, but is rounded up and befriended by Tripper. Also, there's an Olympiad against the rival Camp Mohawk, a super-rich and snobbish batch of brats (so that must be the $1000/wk camp), consisting of a bunch of sort-of athletic events.
I had a hard time following the plot. That's okay, no one watches a summer camp movie for plot. Either you have a slasher cutting up dumb teenagers in the woods, or you're just hoping for hijinks and an occasional panty shot. Although Tripper does tease a murderer in the woods during story time around a campfire, "Meatballs" is 90% hijinks, and maybe 10% panty shots. But even then, the entire point of "Meatballs" is letting Bill Murray go HAM (in every sense of the term) for an hour and a half, the first real chance he'd had to do that. And Murray totally seizes that opportunity. Honestly, the film could probably consist of flyover footage of the Canadian tundra with Murray's dialogue as a voice-over, and things wouldn't have been much different.
In many ways, this is a proto-"Stripes." It's not as good as "Stripes," but you can see Director Ivan Reitman and Murray feeling out some ideas that would come into play in their next film together. Murray as charismatic leader? Check. Big speech to rally the troops? Check.
"It just doesn't matter!"
Taking on an impossible mission? Check. Murray giving some lady the old flapjack treatment? Well, not literally, but he does spend an awful lot of time sweet talking Roxanne. Granted, whatever ideas are in both films are universally done better in "Stripes," but "Meatballs" is where Bill Murray got some cinematic real estate to work out the sort of comedic character he'd play for the first phase of his career. It's also worth noting that my favorite gag of the movie didn't involve Murray; one of the female camp counselors somehow manages to break her leg during a game of something (field hockey, maybe?) when she takes a wicked knee to her crotch. In a real sporting event, you'd have announcers hemming and hawing and referring to a "lower midsection" injury, but we all saw the replays clearly showing a knee striking her lady-balls. I don't know why, but I laughed harder at that than anything else in the movie.
I'd be shocked if I ended up watching "Meatballs" again. It's got it's moments, and I can't get enough of Bill Murray, but there's a long stack of his films that are better viewing experiences. I wouldn't discourage anyone from seeing "Meatballs," especially if you've never seen it before, but it's just best to be aware of what it is that you're in for, exactly. It's like catching a talented baseball player in AA ball, when you can see the tools and the potential, but things haven't quite come together yet. At this point, we all know what comes next in Bill Murray's career, so going back and watching "Meatballs" feels a bit like a homework assignment, albeit one that you'll enjoy a bit.
2 / 5 - TV