Sunday, March 15, 2009

'Miss March': Apatow Lite, By Kurt Loder

Movies fueled by gross-out jokes can be really funny, as who doesn't know by now. But can a gross-out joke about diarrhea be funny more than once? More than twice? This is a question that "Miss March" answers, more than twice, in the negative. And for a teen T&A gross-out comedy, the picture is also a little light in the T&A area — boobs and bottoms do shimmy through the action, it's true; but the lead female character, who's supposed to be a Playboy centerfold, remains covered up throughout (even in her photo spread), as does an actual Playmate of the Year who's also on hand. Teen T&A fans may feel affronted.

The movie is a big career move for Zach Cregger and Trevor Moore, of the proudly lowbrow IFC sketch-comedy series "The Whitest Kids U'Know." They shaped the script, co-directed the picture and star in it, too, as a pair of lifelong friends whose formative childhood sexual experience was their joint discovery of a Playboy magazine stowed in a paternal closet. One of them, Tucker Cleigh (Moore), was transformed by this experience into a horndog of the massively witless variety; the other, Eugene Bell (Cregger), was intimidated into years-long sexual abstinence, a state he shares, as the story gets under way, with his virginal high-school girlfriend, Cindi (Raquel Alessi). After a couple of years of chaste denial, however, Cindi has decided that they should finally take the plunge on prom night. Eugene nervously agrees; but in order to man-up for this long-delayed initiation, he makes the mistake of slamming a few drinks first, and goes tumbling down a flight of stairs and into a coma. When he comes to in the hospital four years later, he learns that the previously pristine Cindi has become a Playboy Playmate. Eugene is bereft, but Tucker sees this development as the perfect excuse for a road trip to Los Angeles, where they'll crash a big party at the Playboy Mansion, find Cindi, and maybe meet Hugh Hefner, too — Tucker's lifelong dream.

The movie's attempted bromance is too jokey to amount to much (further worship at the altar of Judd Apatow is clearly required here), and too many of its gags and setups fizzle. But there are a few bracingly scabrous moments, chief among them the scene in which Tucker is receiving an oral endearment from his epileptic girlfriend (Molly Stanton) when a strobe light sends her into a jaw-clenching seizure. I must also admit I've never seen a sultry Euro-lesbian pick a door lock with her talented tongue before.

The actors are a variable lot. The manic beanpole Moore may be an acquired taste (every time his character opens his mouth, you want to shut it for him), but Cregger has a winning sensitive-hunk appeal that could launch him into better films than this one. And the movie receives a gust of comic energy whenever Craig Robinson — one of Apatow's most valuable players — puts in an appearance. Here he portrays a character who I'm afraid is called Horsedi--, a pimped-to-death rap entrepreneur in billowy gold velour and complicated hair knots, whose centerpiece scene — a booty-crammed video shoot for a song whose title I won't even bother attempting to convey here — makes almost everything else in the movie seem muddled and unadventurous.

Which, by the demanding standards of the teen T&A gross-out genre, almost everything else actually is. There's lots of scattershot raunch, but the picture has no unifying comic spirit — it never lifts up and flies. Apatow's comedies may seem like snotty teen fodder, but they're crafted with grown-up skill. "Miss March" is strictly kid stuff.

Don't miss Kurt Loder's review of "The Last House on the Left," also new in theaters this week.

Check out everything we've got on "Miss March."

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