When I heard that Rudy Giuliani had been sidelined by prostate cancer, I was expecting a triumphant march of the underprivileged reclaiming Manhattan from the mayor's forces of gentrification--the activists brandishing squeegees in one hand and aerosol spray cans in the other, and sleeping wherever they damn well pleased. When not a single hand reached out for spare change as I waited on a 6 train that continued to run impeccably on time, I realized that no such fun was in store. But though the mayor's Quality of Life crackdown on street prostitution was still very much in effect, I, paradoxically, had been invited to town for the express purpose of whoring myself.
The deal was that DreamWorks would fly me to New York and put me up in the posh Regency Hotel to sit in on a roundtable interview with Woody Allen and the cast of his latest film, Small Time Crooks. (More on that particular heist next week.) In exchange, I would preview a college sex-and-grossout flick called Road Trip, and spend three hours feigning interest in the opinions of its young, good-looking cast. Then, sated on room service ($100 per diem!), a wet bar (everything from Frappuccino to Moët!), two TVs (including one in the bathroom!), and a posh hotel nightclub (owned by Michael Feinstein--and presenting the singing debut of Tony Danza!), I'd return to fly-over country feeling starstruck, coaxing my fellow rubes into attending the cineplex of their choice.
And damned if it didn't all work out perfectly--to a degree. The cast members of Road Trip, many of whom were enjoying their first major role in a feature film, proved engaging and energetic, frenetically ad-libbing and otherwise seeking to please the jaded press. When one reporter's tape recorder clicked off, Road Trip star Breckin Meyer quipped, "I'm gonna play Anakin Skywalker--oops, you missed it," and we all laughed. I have a renewed crush on Rachel Blanchard, whom I used to ogle on the Clueless TV show. And director Todd Phillips, whose credits so far include a biopic of shock-rocker G.G. Allin and the Sundance-accoladed college doc Frat House (which has seen its distribution quashed by a litigation-wary HBO), clearly aims to subvert the genre. Especially given my situation, I'd speak no evil of them in print. But I still wonder why all these smart, funny people didn't come up with a better trashy movie.
Let's face it: An exploration of bad taste is as tough to pull off as good taste. Certainly, Road Trip milks the zany-mixup genre for any laughs that might be left at the bottom of that overtapped basin. Lonely from a long-distance relationship, Ithaca U frosh Josh (Meyer) has sex with the frisky Beth (Amy Smart). Before you can say, "I thought Chrissy paid the rent, Mr. Roper," his pals accidentally mail a videotape of the tryst to Josh's girlfriend Tiffany (Blanchard) in Austin. Commandeering a car from nerdy Kyle (played by rubbery human sight gag DJ Qualls), the boys race south to grab it before Tiffany does. En route, they encounter beaucoup boners, miscegenation, gratuitous nudity, and heartwarming spurts of, er, emotional maturation.
MTV comic Tom Green, whose shtick relies on the shocked responses of actual humans, withers onscreen when surrounded by other actors. (Green was out of commission for this junket, recuperating from--notice a trend here?--a successful surgery to excise his prostate cancer.) And while I admire the pro-smut libertarianism of producer and longtime lowbrow champ Ivan Reitman, the movie is so indebted to Reitman's first major project, National Lampoon's Animal House, that one interviewer slipped up and called it Roadhouse. ("You mean Animal Trip?" someone shot back.)
How lucky for me, then, that my favorite scene allows me to work what we in the press call "the local angle" while also retaining this article's rectally centered theme. Familiar to many as Stifler, the tasteless socialite jock in American Pie who guzzled a cupful of cum, Road Trip's Seann Michael Scott is a native Minnesotan--Cottage Grove, to be specific. He responded to snooty questions like "Is there any guilty pleasure in being in a movie that is obviously geared to the lowest common denominator?" with a jaunty "I think it's awesome." He continued: "My brothers loved it, and they're total Minnesota--long hair, Harley-Davidson shirts. It's a movie that everybody I grew up with would totally love." Take that as you will, hometown folks. Cottage Grove totally rocks!
In Road Trip, Scott's character goes to a sperm bank to make extra cash. He cajoles a nurse into giving him a hand, whereupon she tells him to spread 'em, snaps a rubber glove ominously into place, and scoops two fingers into his prostate to induce ejaculation. The punch line: He digs it. So much so, in fact, that he hooks up with a premed hottie who knows how to perform said procedure for an LTR by film's close. "Does that work?" wondered a milk-fed teen at one Road Trip screening, leaving me to wonder whether this might start a trend. Could het frat-boy types really start investing in butt plugs?
Alas, my fellow junketeers were too distracted to ponder such questions. They were busy griping that their cover had been blown, via a recent Premiere article by Jewel Shepard. She had tagged along on an Erin Brockovich junket and comically related the alternate glad-handing and door-shutting in which film PR types indulge, as well as itemizing some of the goodies given out to the press. The crits I was with, many of whom were present at that junket and anonymously quoted, felt violated. "From now on," one older fellow intoned jokingly but ominously, "all strangers are suspect." I smiled nervously.
So add movie reviews to laws and sausages on the list of things you enjoy more when you haven't heard how they're made. Still, I took a certain pleasure in observing that the same hacks who complained of "low journalistic standards" in the Shepard piece would later fawningly ask Tracey Ullman which dress she most enjoyed wearing in Small Time Crooks. And at the Road Trip roundtable, these folks spent an equal amount of time schmoozing ("You're from Canada, Ivan? I'm from Canada!") and berating the cast for making a silly sex comedy ("Surely this movie is beneath just about everyone"). Jeez--talk about butt plugs.
Road Trip starts Friday, May 19 at area theaters.
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