Thursday, January 10, 2002

Admitting the obvious

Movie: Orange County

Posted on Thu, Jan 10, 2002 at 4:00 AM

**1/2
Our Rating: 2.50

Mike White, writer and star of the unsettling art-house favorite "Chuck & Buck," reaches for the brass ring of mainstream comedy with "Orange County," his uneven portrait of a teen-aged surfer turned writer (Colin Hanks, Tom's son) who pins his hopes for a rewarding future on admission to Stanford University. Holding him back are his high school's inept administrators and his own mortifying family, including his alcoholic mom (Catherine O'Hara) and a drug-addled older brother (Jack Black) who lives his life a single failed pee-test away from incarceration.

About one in three gags in White's intermittently wise script hits its mark; the rest are padding unashamedly appropriated from the teen-exploitation playbook. (If you've never seen a movie in which an authority figure accidentally goes on a dope bender, you're in for a real howler.) The chief asset is Black, whose lumbering burnout -- a heavily pantomimic cross between Kevin Smith's Silent Bob and John Belushi's Bluto Blutarsky -- embodies the full range of feeling endemic to the stoner canon. (That would be semiconsciousness and dementia, for those of you keeping score.) Whenever Black's Lance is on the screen, the movie, shall we say, lights up.

White and director Jake Kasdan pepper their cast with familiar faces whose success in getting laughs seems inversely proportional to their pedigrees. The cameos by old schoolers Chevy Chase, Lily Tomlin and Harold Ramis are all less entertaining than Ben Stiller's straight-faced, square-jawed bit as a fireman called in to stamp out one of Lance's more explosive errors. White reserves a small but choice role for himself, revealing that the creepy, man-child stalker of "Chuck & Buck" has been reborn as -- get this -- an English teacher. Eeeeeewwwww.

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