10 years on, still ‘Hot,’ funny

A big group of comic ta­lent keeps the camp an­tics ab­surd in this sendup of re­unions.

Los Angeles Times - - POP & HISS - ROBERT LLOYD TELE­VI­SION CRITIC robert.lloyd@la­times.com

And so we come to the third in­stall­ment of Michael Showal­ter and David Wain’s “Wet Hot Amer­i­can Sum­mer,” the sum­mer-camp se­ries in­au­gu­rated back in 2001 with a theatri­cal film flop later turned cult clas­sic. That movie, set on the last day of camp 1981, with teenage coun­selors played by ac­tors even then too old for their parts, was fol­lowed in 2015 by an eight-episode Net­flix se­ries set two months be­fore the events of the film — on the first day of camp — but with the ac­tors 14 years older.

That should give you an idea of the sort of re­al­ity we’re deal­ing with here. There is also a talk­ing can of veg­eta­bles.

The new in­stall­ment, “Wet Hot Amer­i­can Sum­mer: Ten Years Later,” which pre­mieres Friday on Netf lix, is again an eight-episode se­ries, di­rected as be­fore by Wain and writ­ten by Wain and Showal­ter (re­cently the direc­tor of “The Big Sick”), among oth­ers. As the first film was a romp through early ’80s camp come­dies and the sec­ond had fun with pre­quels, the new film plays upon re­union films, with their mix of mem­ory and de­sire, suc­cess sto­ries and tales of fail­ure, re­grets and re­demp­tions. As be­fore, it’s a knock­about mix of film styles and ref­er­ences, de­vel­oped re­la­tion­ships and ran­dom in­spi­ra­tions; ridicu­lous and gross and ironic and some­how mov­ing by turns, and some­times all at once, it’s a take­off, but not a take­down.

A mas­sive su­per­group of comic ta­lent holds the strands to­gether, in­clud­ing Wain and Showal­ter, Amy Poehler, Chris Meloni, El­iz­a­beth Banks, Paul Rudd, Janeane Garo­falo, Lake Bell, Kris­ten Wiig, John Early, Joe Lo Truglio, H. Jon Ben­jamin, Josh Charles, Molly Shan­non, Chris Pine, Ja­son Schwartz­man, Mark Feuer­stein, Ken Marino, Michael Ian Black, Alyssa Mi­lano, Marlo Thomas, Paul Scheer and Adam Scott (subbing for Bradley Cooper).

They don’t ex­actly play straight, but they play straight enough to make you feel their plea­sure and their pain, to find com­pelling the most ab­surd of their predica­ments.

As Andy, the des­ig­nated bad boy and for­mer King of Camp Fire­wood, Rudd turns up dressed, es­sen­tially, as Matt Dil­lon’s char­ac­ter from “Sin­gles”; Susie (Poehler), the theater nerd, is now a Hol­ly­wood “pro­ducer slash ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer”; and Showal­ter’s Coop, vaguely the cen­tral char­ac­ter, is now an au­thor strug­gling to find an end­ing to his book, which his edi­tor (Me­lanie Lynskey) says has “the po­ten­tial to be a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion mem­oir that cap­tures the zeit­geist of the early ’90s.”

It is a mock action film full of ac­tual action. (There is a lot of im­pres­sive stunt work.) It is a con­spir­acy thriller, in­clud­ing past, present and fu­ture pres­i­dents. It is a “crazy nanny” movie of the sort pop­u­lar in its time.

It is also a par­ody of ro­man­tic com­edy that works, if you let it, as a ro­man­tic com­edy. Lines like “How am I sup­posed to write an end­ing to a story that I’m still liv­ing” and “Don’t you ask me to jump if you’re not go­ing to be there to catch me” are per­fect, per­fectly ef­fec­tive pas­tiches of the sen­ti­men­tal come­dies of the time. When J.J. (Zak Orth), who has been clerk­ing at an “al­ter­na­tive video store,” re­fuses to rent “When Harry Met Sally…” to a cus­tomer, say­ing, “I have a moral obli­ga­tion to pre­vent the fur­ther de­cay of ro­man­tic ex­pec­ta­tions pro­vided by the fal­lacy per­pet­u­ated by Hol­ly­wood ro­man­tic come­dies,” that is a cri­tique of the genre, right out of the genre.

I don’t want to lay too much weight on the se­ries. There are jokes about uri­na­tion and ex­cre­tion and sex. There are jokes whose only pur­pose is to draw your at­ten­tion to the fact that a joke is be­ing made about some­thing from the early ’90s — B. Dal­ton Book­sellers, in-line skates, slackers (“like that movie that just came out five weeks ago”).

And yet it’s not too much to say that this is a piece about the pas­sage of time — be­cause, lit­er­ally, it is. A movie about a re­union that is it­self a re­union. It is poignant not quite in spite of it­self. There is a mo­ment near the end, al­most too brief to reg­is­ter — and oddly breath­tak­ing — in which a group shot from the 2001 film, when ac­tors now push­ing 50 were the age of the char­ac­ters they’re play­ing here, is in­serted into the action. I don’t think it’s been put there to be funny, only lovely: We were young and beau­ti­ful in an­other world.

But they’re still look­ing good in this one.

Pho­to­graphs by Saeed Adyani Netf lix

AMY POEHLER’S theater nerd Susie is a Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer in Netf lix’s lat­est ad­di­tion to the com­edy “Wet Hot Amer­i­can Sum­mer.”

BAD BOY Andy (Paul Rudd) re­unites with Katie (Mar­guerite Moreau) in the eight-episode se­ries.

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