Stalled at the Side of the Road
Super Troopers Needs A Lift
Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar
Written by Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, and Erik Stolhanske
Starring Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske, Brian Cox
Super Troopers is a movie that starts off ambitiously, but loses direction as it progresses. The writers -- the comedy troupe Broken Lizard -- create a clever, absurd atmosphere reminiscent of Wet Hot American Summer or Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but fail to maintain the level of absurdity throughout the movie. The movie’s faults do not result from lack of talent, but rather lack of experience, as this is only the group’s second feature film.
The movie begins with the zany antics of a group of bored Vermont state troopers. The characters have rather one-dimensional personalities: the rookie, the annoying fat one, the nerdy lover, the Indian, and the goofy one. Although great character depth isn’t necessary in this type of movie, some of the characters could use more charm. Oddly enough, the captain is played by serious dramatic actor Brian Cox (L.I.E., Braveheart, Manhunter) who tries his best with the weak material he is given.
Most of the pranks are quite funny and seem designed to amuse ornery college students. To amuse themselves, the troopers play mind games with the people who get pulled over. In the opening scene, they frighten a group of stoners by acting like they are going to pull them over, then harmlessly pass them. When the stoners are relieved that they are not getting caught, the troopers swing their car around and harass them. The troopers also dare each other to say “meow” ten times while giving a ticket to a speeding driver.
Unfortunately, the writers seemed to use up their creativity in the first 40 minutes of the script. At this point, the movie shifts from absurdity into an uninspired plot about trying to save their station from being disbanded. Since the troopers are too busy being jokesters to actually catch any lawbreakers, their station will be shut down and their job taken over by the Evil Local Cops. Luckily, they stumble upon a murder and a marijuana smuggling ring! Can they catch the baddies and save their sorry asses? Will wackiness ensue? You bet!
The movie also makes some rather untimely Afghanistan jokes. Broken Lizard, who were at the screening I attended, were quick to point out that they had written and filmed the movie long before Sept. 11. However, since they won’t be present at every showing of the movie, it would have done them well to take out the references. There was absolute dead silence in the theater when these lines were said, which isn’t surprising because they came off as exploitive.
Overall, the directing and style are very professional for a low-budget comedy. Unfortunately, there are a few amateurish moments that definitely detract from the atmosphere. The extras seem to be all too aware that they are in a movie, and can occasionally be seen laughing at the jokes. It also becomes all too obvious that a few jokes were ad-libbed because the other actors break role and seem to be holding back a chuckle. Also, the title is not very interesting or compelling.
It was refreshing to actually see an Indian-American actor play a main character. Nope, he wasn’t even playing a doctor or an engineer either. Aside from Lucy Liu, the Asian actors in Hollywood are overwhelmingly typecast. I hope this is a sign of a positive trend toward including Asian-Americans in films as ordinary people.
What sets successful sketch-comedy groups such as Monty Python, The Kids in the Hall, and The State apart from Broken Lizard is confidence in the group’s “voice.” Perhaps Broken Lizard’s disadvantage comes from their lack of a background in television. The other groups were able to test out their ideas on an audience to see what worked and what didn’t. If a sketch wasn’t funny, there would be a completely different one in 5 minutes. Thus, these groups had a rather repercussion-free medium to test their ideas. Broken Lizard has jumped straight into movies from theater. What works on a stage is enormously different from what works on screen, and Broken Lizard hasn’t had the time to make mistakes and learn from them. Hopefully, the group will study its blunders in this film, because they have the talent to make a great absurd comedy.