Orange County

2001, Movie, PG-13, 81 mins


A well-meaning misfire, this SoCal coming-of-age tale tries to be both a broad teen farce and a sensitive family drama. If you can imagine the Hallmark Hall of Fame version of AMERICAN PIE, you can see why this doesn't work. Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks, son of Tom) attends Vista Del Mar High School in affluent Orange County, Calif., where he essentially majors in surfing — until an accident kills a close friend and the suddenly serious Shaun stumbles on a life-changing coming-of-age novel (the fictitious "Straight Jacket" by Marcus Skinner) that inspires him to become a writer. Obsessed with attending Stanford University, where Skinner teaches, the seemingly sensible Shaun applies to no other school — this, based on the advice of a caricatured guidance counselor (Lily Tomlin, who seems to have wandered in from some other, cartoonish movie) who mixes up his transcript and nixes his chances. Shaun's girlfriend, Ashley (Schuyler Fisk, Sissy Spacek's remarkably talented and natural daughter), manages to finagle a meeting with a Stanford trustee and his wife (Garry Marshall and Dana Ivey), but it's unintentionally sabotaged by Shaun's clinging, blowsy mom (Catherine O'Hara), his stoner brother Lance (Jack Black, who completely overpowers the wispy Hanks), and his idiot friends Arlo and Chad (Kyle Howard and RJ Knoll). Desperate, Shaun allows Lance to drive him and Ashley to Stanford (why Shaun couldn't have taken his own car isn't explained), where he hopes to make a last-ditch appeal to the dean of admissions (Harold Ramis). Shaun also seeks help from his rich father (John Lithgow), who kept his millions even after being caught in flagrante delicto while Shaun's mom had to marry a well-to-do invalid (George Murdock) in order to make ends meet. Never mind that the film takes its very title from a county in a community-property state. This sort of sloppy, unthinking scripting doesn't serve a movie that prides itself on being smarter than the average teen comedy, nor does the fact that screenwriter Mike White (CHUCK & BUCK) and director Jake Kasdan (Lawrence's son) offer no fresh insight into the well-worn, turn-your-life-around premise as the story moves from one preposterous turn to another. Black and Ramis each have some funny moments, but despite the heroic efforts of one hell of a cast (including an uncredited Ben Stiller and Kevin Kline), this ORANGE is a lemon. leave a comment --Frank Lovece

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