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Broken Lizard's
Club Dread

After three Scary Movies and even the Scream series, spoofing slasher films isn't just tricky business; it's tired business. So it takes rare talent to say something new, or at least let us forget we've seen it all before. The sketch troupe Broken Lizard may not be that rare talent, but, under the direction of member Jay Chandrasekhar, they do a credible job of diversion.

Though they do use as many splatter film clichés as possible in Club Dread, most of them serve as dressing to what the group really does best: amble through some odd character work and do mildly funny things. They've also got real gold in bringing Bill Paxton into the mix as the hedonistic musician Coconut Pete, owner of Pleasure Island. The veteran actor has his usual sleazy charm, letting loose into the dark side of his persona in a way he hasn't much been able to since the early days of his career.

Basing the resort on one of his songs, Pete invites college kids and single yuppies to party hard in the spirit of his music. If Jimmy Buffet had an amusement park, this would be it. But in a somewhat clever twist, Pete resents Buffet as a rip-off artist, especially when it comes to his famous song "Pina Coladaburg."

Of course there's a snake in paradise, a machete-wielding killer unsure of his influences, draped as he is in serape and tiki mask. There's a nod to Scooby Doo there somewhere. Indeed, Chandrasekhar (also featured as dread-locked tennis pro Putman) stages the island guests' arrival a lot like the film version of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Instead of Mondivarius, though, guests are greeted by Sam of the Fun Police (Erik Stolhanske), in charge of enforcing a drunken good time.

But that's all in flashback, after a clever opening sequence that sees three staff members slaughtered mid-sexual encounter. The problem is, Broken Lizard pretty much blows its wad right here, piling fake gotchas on top of each other and making sure that the three are dumb beyond belief. Their fatal tryst moves from spooky woods to abandoned native graveyard, finally seeking privacy in a mausoleum. It's not so much funny as knowing, with us all nodding, "yeah, that's how those movies go."

Every killing plays out with a variation of those same elements, overdoing the joke until it gets funny again. Unfortunately, it never does get all that funny in the first place, though the death of hot kitchen supervisor Yu (Lindsay Price) evokes a good solid laugh. Like a lot of the jokes, the pun on her name gets overdone long before she does.

And yet, this is a smart movie, just with a fondness for really bad jokes. They're not just ripping a genre here, Broken Lizard is also tackling a specific era. The film looks and feels like the bad slasher movies of the seventies, the kind you would catch opening in a double feature at a bargain house. If the climax feels like a strange homage to Jaws, you missed what they're after. (The troupe has taken the "unstoppable killer" thing to a ridiculous extreme that works, even if makes no sense. But then, such things never do.)

Sometimes the script wedges killing in around ideas you know they just thought were funny in a Club Med-like setting. Often, a joke will come out of left field, get a big laugh, and lead you to hope they can keep the momentum going. Though it ends in tragedy, the live action version of a long popular video game provides a comedic high point. A few things they put in the film actually are the kinds of things those resorts do, though if any of you have played "catch the naked guy for free drinks," please keep it to yourself.

Wisely, the troupe members have all written very different characters for themselves than they played in their previous movie, Super Troopers. As chunky masseusse Lars, Kevin Heffernan does a pretty impressive about face from the jerk he played in the earlier film, the infamous chunk-blowing Farva. But somehow, they all made a bigger splash then than now. Maybe it's because the characters here are just cut-outs, instead of people we've never met before.

Broken Lizard is a troupe worth attention. They just haven't quite made the film yet that will prove it to people other than sketch fans.


Derek McCaw

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