Encino Man

1992, Movie, R, 89 mins

Review

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An amusing idea goes nowhere in ENCINO MAN, the Disney debut from the producers behind the acclaimed documentary HEARTS OF DARKNESS: A FILMMAKER'S APOCALYPSE.

Recycling the stone-aged teenage plot about the two dweebs who make good, Sean Astin and Pauly Shore co-star as Encino High seniors Dave Morgan and Stoney Brown, who are facing graduation as failures. Dave has lost his lifelong love, Robyn Sweeney (Megan Ward), to the school goon Matt (Michael DeLuise, son of Dom). Stoney, meanwhile, lives in a little Valley world of his own with its own language and "wacky" outlook on life. Dave's quest for popularity has reached the obsessive point where he is digging his own swimming pool in his family's backyard in order to host a righteous after-prom party. It is from there that one of Southern California's frequent earthquakes unearths the title caveman (Brendan Fraser) in a cake of ice.

After thawing, "Link" proves so "rad" that Dave sees him as a shortcut to high-school popularity, as well as a way to win back Robyn. At school, Link is palmed off as an exchange student from "Estonia" who causes high-spirited mayhem around Encino High while placing Dave and Stoney in the social spotlight. Dave's plan goes awry, however, when Robyn and Link become attracted to each other and Matt begins to suspect Link's true origins. Dave and Stoney have a brief falling-out over Dave's exploitation of Link after a fed-up Dave tries to abandon Link by the side of a road. But everybody gets back together in time to defeat Matt, who tries to expose Link's caveman-hood at the prom. The romantic impasse between Robyn and Dave is solved by the last-minute unearthing of Link's sexy cave-girlfriend (Sandra Hess). At the fadeout, Dave and Robyn are blissfully sucking face while Stoney addresses the camera and promises to be back.

Judging by the fadeout, Disney seems to think it has a new franchise in Shore, the rubber-faced son of comedian Sammy Shore and comedy club owner Mitzi Shore who stars on an allegedly popular MTV cable show. Not only is he featured here; according to ENCINO MAN's presskit, he has been signed to a three-picture deal with Disney subsidiary Hollywood Pictures to do--who knows what. Maybe he'll be teamed with Jim Varney to add teen appeal to upcoming "Ernest" movies. But all seriousness aside, ENCINO MAN is a less-than-stellar calling card for a subpar talent.

The film itself is a drab, lifeless farce that manages to make not only the "Bill and Ted" movies and WAYNE'S WORLD, but even STRANGE BREW, seem fresh and original by comparison. In what is fast becoming the signature of the Disney comedy style, its potentially intriguing premise gets systematically watered down in numbingly routine, derivative comedy situations and half-baked, warmhearted homilies. Awkwardly sidestepped is any serious or satirical exploration of the film's ticklish premise--unleashing an earthy half-animal in a school full of hormone-wired teenaged girls and their preening, blow-dried boyfriends. In the age of AIDS and clarion calls for a return to family values, the most relating to be done here is between Dave and Stoney, with Robyn functioning as a sort of brain-dead adornment who gravitates from Matt to Link to Dave for no discernible reason except that it's where the plot puts her.

For the most part, anything resembling a genuine plot is pushed back to give a showcase for Shore, a scenery chewer without conviction or noticeable talent, whose deficits as an actor and comedian have evidently remained safely hidden in the zap-happy MTV format until now. Fraser (SCHOOL TIES) seems to have some talent for physical comedy but, despite having the film named after his character, he seems over-edited and reined-in, as though the filmmakers saw him in constant danger of stealing the film from Shore. While he's in the spotlight, however, he resembles an amusing younger version of Christopher Lambert's Tarzan.

Astin also tries hard, but his character is an unappealing nonentity who really has no business getting the girl. Richard Masur and Mariette Hartley are funny but, despite being billed over the over-ubiquitous Shore, they have little more than cameo roles here as Dave's placidly baffled parents.

All told, ENCINO MAN is yet another "zany" Disney comedy that is little more than the sum total of its trailers. (Adult situations, substance abuse.) leave a comment

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