A Live One
Dead Man On Campus is one of those movies which is kind of plodding and fairly predictable, but you find yourself howling with laughter anyway. Do I even need to mention that this film fails to take seriously such problematic social issues as teen depression, drug use, casual sex, and poor educational values?
In fact, Dead Man On Campus made me oddly nostalgic. It's the first movie I can think of since the start of the AIDS epidemic which glamorizes drinking, smoking, getting high, and getting laid. This film is akin to Animal House, not Dead Poets' Society. It gets no bonus points for promoting the virtues of studying, hard work, or playing fair. There are undoubtedly many people who will be offended by it. I'm afraid that I'm not one of those people.
The film starts out rather earnestly, as if it's going to be a realistic movie about adjusting to college, which makes the beginning a little slow. But this proves to be beneficial because by the time it goes completely over the top, you're in the mood for the absurdity. The story focuses on Josh, a straight-laced student with a scholarship to fictitious Daleman College. His party-hard roommate Cooper quickly lures Josh into the joys of bong hits, booze, and readily available sex. As they both face the prospect of flunking out at the end of their first semester, they discover a clause in the school charter which requires that the roommates of a student who commits suicide be given straight A's...so they set out to find someone to move into the single in their suite so they can drive the new roommate to kill himself.
The initial scenes depicting the pair scouting for potential suicides are a little uncomfortable: despite a witty cop-movie parody as they steal files and a couple of throwaway comic scenes in which the residents of their hall mistakenly assume Josh and Cooper are gay, there's some pretty nasty stereotyping going on. However, once the search gets pared down to a couple of psychopaths, the action picks up steam. Their first choice for a potential roommate, a horny, daredevil fraternity animal who shoots at cops and likes the rush from getting kicked in his privates, nearly gets Josh and Cooper killed as well as himself. The next choice, a paranoid computer geek who believes Bill Gates is trying to get inside his brain to steal his ideas, wants to live free from the evil intrusions of Microsoft. The third, a morose guitarist with a death-punk band called Kiss My A$$, has a secret affinity for showtunes and a fake accent; even his death wish is all a pretentious act.
Predictably, the two protagonists are too absorbed in their search for a suicide to notice the truly depressed person in their crowd; also predictably, we get lots of scenes of the two guys working studiously at their misguided project, as a demonstration that had they decided to apply themselves to school, they could have gotten good grades on their own. It's not the plot that sells this movie. It's the one-liners ("Have a beer...oh, wait, that's not beer in that bottle"), the absurdities ("Kurt Cobain and Vince Foster are not really dead! It's a conspiracy!"), the film parodies (Men In Black to Mission Impossible), the gay jokes, the mooning scenes, the attempted vehicular manslaughter...have I mentioned that this film is not politically correct? It's not as spectacular as There's Something About Mary, but it's designed for a younger crowd. MTV co-produced Dead Man On Campus, and the soundtrack is the slickest thing about it.
Tom Everett Scott's Josh isn't quite convincing as a nerd or a rebel, though Mark-Paul Gosselaar's Cooper looks like what you'd get if you threw Dean Cain and John Cusack in a blender and got the result stoned. The memorable characters are the cameos: repressed Catholic schoolboy Kyle, crazed frat boy Cliff, Unabomber-in-training Buckley, Peter Murphy lookalike Matt, and a parade of cliched teachers, parents, and student types who each get laughs. Director Alan Cohn of MTV's Real World plays the sight gags for all they're worth, and once the film moves past the boring introduction of the principals and into the ridiculous plot, the pacing is very effective.
I saw this film with a youngish crowd that was very willing to laugh at the cheap sex jokes and the ridiculous portrayal of college life; I can imagine it wouldn't be nearly as much fun with a crowd that wasn't laughing along. Go see this one with your college buddies, not your family.