Screenplay : Todd Phillips and Scot Armstrong
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Breckin Meyer (Josh Porter), Seann William Scott (E.L.), DJ Qualls (Kyle Edwards), Paulo Costanzo (Rubin), Fred Ward (Earl Edwards), Amy Smart (Beth), Tom Green (Barry), Anthony Rapp (Jacob), Andy Dick (Motel Clerk), Rachel Blanchard (Tiffany), Omar J. Dorsey (Lawrence), Rhoda Griffis (Mary Griffin), Wendell B. Harris Jr. (Prof. Anderson)
If vulgarity is an art form, then "Road Trip" aims to a masterpiece. Obscene and often quite funny, "Road Trip" is a direct descendent of the "Animal House"-inspired comedies of the 1980s cross-bred with the Farrelly Brothers ("There's Something About Mary"). It will likely be compared to last summer's gross-out teen comedy "American Pie," although "Road Trip" is decidedly lacking in the sentimental streak that gave "American Pie" its heart. No, "Road Trip" is all tackiness and attitude.
The movie is narrated by Barry (Tom Green, the deadpan comedian who gained popularity on his self-titled MTV show), a student at the University of Ithaca who has been there for going on eight years. He is working as a campus tour guide for incoming freshmen, but instead of talking about the history of the campus (which he knows nothing about), he begins telling the story of how a couple of his friends made an 1,800-mile road trip from Ithaca, New York, to Austin, Texas.
The film makes a funny, sly statement about the predominantly male-oriented point of view of movies of this nature by making it clear up front that Barry is telling the story his own way. So, at one point early on, he is narrating a scene that takes place in the girls' shower room, and, of course, most of the girls are either standing around topless or completely naked. When a woman in his tour group interrupts Barry to inform him that girls don't stand around the shower room talking to each other topless--essentially pointing out the unrealistic male-fantasy nature of the scene--Barry shoots back at her that he'stelling the story and he's going to tell it hisway.
The story concerns Josh Porter (Breckin Meyer), a freshman at Ithaca who is carrying on a long-distance relationship with his girlfriend of many years, Tiffany (Rachel Blanchard), who is at the University of Austin. When Josh doesn't hear from Tiffany for three days and Tiffany's roommate gives him the impression that she is having an affair with someone else, Josh lets down his guard and sleeps with Beth (Amy Smart), a fellow student at Ithaca who obviously has a crush on him. Josh and Beth videotape their encounter, and the tape ends up being accidentally mailed to Tiffany. Josh finds out that the tape has been mailed to Austin at the same time he gets a message from Tiffany explaining why he hasn't heard from her: her grandfather had died and she was at the funeral.
So, the only answer to saving his relationship with Tiffany is to drive the 1,800 miles to Austin in three days and intercept the package before she gets it. Along for the ride is Josh's obnoxious, sex-obsessed friend E.L. (Seann William Scott, who played a similar role in "American Pie"), his overly intellectual roommate Rubin (Paulo Costanzo), who can only relax when he's smoking dope, and the absurdly skinny and geeky Kyle (DJ Qualls), who is invited to go because he is the only one who owns a car.
"Road Trip" chronicles their trip southward, and it includes several predictable sequences, including the inevitable destruction of Kyle's car (E.L. solves the problem by stealing a bus from a school for the blind). The trip also includes a stop at a sperm bank to earn some money, where E.L. learns a whole new method of sexual gratification from a nurse. There is also a bizarre sequence where the boys stop off at Barry's grandparents' house to stay the night, which leads to some bad Viagra jokes and a gag about a talking dog (you have to see it to understand it).
All this is framed by Barry staying back in Ithaca and his obsession with feeding Rubin's pet python (the punch-line to this running joke would be even more startling and hilarious if it weren't featured so prominently in all the previews). There are also subplots about Beth inadvertently going to Boston instead of Austin to inform Josh's girlfriend that she has slept with him (she tells this a complete stranger named Tiffany who ends up beating her innocent boyfriend half to death), as well as a subplot about Jacob (Anthony Rapp), a sniveling teacher's pet who has a crush on Beth and attempts to sabotage Josh's chances of passing a tough philosophy mid-term.
"Road Trip" was directed and co-written by Todd Phillips, who is best known as the co-director of the controversial 1998 documentary "Frat House," which was accused of falsifying its subject and was subsequently dropped by HBO. "Road Trip" has none of the pretensions of unearthing some greater, deeper truth about college life that "Frat House" had. It is a single-minded film whose humor is raunchy, but often funny.
If the movie doesn't succeed entirely, it is probably because it isn't quite ambitious enough. The jokes are crude and stretch the limits of taste, but there is more to making a good animal comedy than just being gross. There are a few moments of inspiration, such as the casting of Andy Dick as a bizarre motel clerk and Fred Ward as Kyle's overbearing, gun-toting father. But, overall, the film comes off as an assemblage of parts from better movies, and while it is certainly amusing, it isn't particularly memorable.
©2000 James Kendrick