Friday, March 9, 2012

Netflix Friday: National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze

Way back in the halcyon days of the mid 1980s, National Lampoon magazine was one of the funniest, most irreverent things on the news stand (okay, we've had this discussion before -- on the magazine rack at 7-Eleven). These days, its name lives on only to market cheap comedies filled with sex and drug references.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. After a long week, sometimes that's exactly the sort of thing I'm in the mood for. The other day I saw a trailer for the upcoming American Pie Reunion movie, which put me in the mood to find something of similar ilk. Friday night after my wife went to bed, I browsed Netflix and found something that -- for no discernible reason I could fathom at the time -- I selected National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze.

I went in with low expectations, hoping for a few funny gags and some non-gratuitous T&A (that's right, I wanted T&A that was essential to the plot, not just extraneous -- you know, like you find in your better slumber party pillow fight scenes). Well, there were no pillow fights in this movie, but I was wonderfully surprised by a rather enjoyable farce that moved at a pleasantly brisk pace. Of course, you would never know this from the official description from the Netflix site, or even from the movie's trailer (both included below).

-- Description from Netflix Web siteAs Christmas break approaches, coed college students run amok in their dorms in this comedy of misadventures. It's a case of mistaken identity when two girls who are both named Dominique visit campus: One is a hooker hired to deflower a male virgin, while the other is a foreign exchange student who speaks only French. Other higher-learning high jinks involve a couple of gossipy girls, a geek, a gangster and a missing purse full of cash.

Ignore the official info and read on as to why you should watch Dorm Daze.

Dorm Daze is a classic drawing room/manor house play set in a modern dormitory. The classic roles of servants, cooks, maids, valets, master, mistress, rich sons/daughters have all been replaced with about 11 college students and a few other characters (like the aforementioned hooker named Dominique). Honestly, with very little work this screenplay could be rewritten and would do quite well as a Masterpiece Theater production with the BBC.

Here's some twisted highlights (and no, I don't think I can make it much clearer because it's one of those types of movies); One of the girls is about to lose her scholarship when she receives a package containing a plaid purse with $30,000 and a note. She calls a phone number on the note and meets a guy who thinks she's some sort of hit woman or criminal; she's not sure which, but she plays along and cooks up a scheme to get the money so she can stay in school. Meanwhile, Styles hires a prostitute for his younger brother's Christmas present (now that's brotherly love), but the brother doesn't want it because he's in love with his girlfriend. Then we've got the hooker and the foreign exchange student, both named Dominique, who naturally get mistaken for each other; so Styles is trying to get the French girl to do his brother, whereas the hooker is getting upset about not getting paid. Then there's a visiting guy named Cliff who doesn't want to talk to anyone, so he pretends he can't speak English (which means that other people talk freely in front him, wherein he learns about the money and figures out who the hooker is). Then there are the romantic entanglements: Geeky Newmar likes Adrienne (she got drunk and made out with him last night), but she has feelings for local hottie Foosball, who is actually gay. Things go wild from there, with four notes (love poem, instructions to the criminals, love letter and a phone number) all get mixed up with predictable results. We even have trouble between long-term girlfriend/boyfriend Claire and Tony with a subplot where he accidentally keeps banging into her, so the local drama/gossip queens Marla and Lynne are convinced that Tony is beating Claire, and cheating with Adrienne. Honest-to-gosh, they do the old bit where Adrienne and Tony are rehearsing for a play and are overheard through a door, after which many misunderstandings ensue. Until, of course, true love finds its way at the end and all is right with the world... or is it?

In the "Hey, I know that actress file": Marla is played by Danielle Fishel who played Topanga in Boy Meets World, and Claire is played by Tatyana Ali who played Ashley in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

By this time, though the pace has picked up so much that if you're still watching, you're going to just dive in and enjoy the ride. This is not a serious movie, but it's actually better written and better acted than you would suspect from the official descriptions and from my babbling on about it here. If you want something a little more cogent than my fanboy ramblings, check out this fairly detailed plot summary from IMDB.

The IMDB summary calls this a "collegiate comedy of Shakespearean proportions." I find that really apt since, as I said above, this really felt like an old-fashioned play. While watching it, with all the door slammings and note swappings, I couldn't help but think of the classic play (and movie), Noises Off! You could almost swap out the play-within-a-play -- Nothing On! -- with a reworked Dorm Daze, and you would still have a hit on your hands.

If you like classic comedies built on mistaken identity, misunderstandings, slamming doors, running down hallways, misplaced notes, and duplicate bags of money, then this is definitely a movie you should watch. Fair warning: it does have an R-Rating, so there are a few curse words here and there (nothing much, though), and a little bit of completely necessary nudity (okay, it wasn't necessary but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it). All in all, the naughty bits are pretty mild and were not included for shock value.

Out of five stars, I give this movie ****
Summary: "If you give this movie 15 minutes, you'll get sucked into a modern update on a classic drawing room/manor house comedy."

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