|Totally Awesome (2006)
Starring: Mikey Day, Dominique Swain, Chris Kattan, Trevor Heins, Nicki Clyne, Brittany Daniel, James Hong, Joey Kern, Bijou Phillips, Tracy Morgan, Ben Stein
Director: Neal Brennan
The photo on the cover of VH-1 Films’ “Totally Awesome,” a parody of just about every teen movie made during the ‘80s, walks the line of having you both totally psyched and utterly horrified.
Chris Kattan (“Saturday Night Live”) is wearing a black jumpsuit and has a sweatband around his head; James Hong (“Big Trouble in Little China,” “The Golden Child”) has a scarf wrapped around his head, one bearing the Japanese flag; Tracy Morgan (“30 Rock”) has Jeri-curled hair and sunglasses; Dominique Swain (“Lolita”) is wearing an off-the-shoulder striped blouse, white stockings, and pink legwarmers. Throw in the pair of perfectly-coiffed preppies standing next to Kattan, and you can’t help but think, “Okay, this might…just might…actually be totally awesome.”
It’s not entirely awesome…but it’s much funnier than you’d expect.
The film begins with the Gunderson family moving across the country, which requires teenagers Charlie (Mikey Day) and Lori (Swain) to acclimate themselves to a new school. Charlie walks in to find himself listed statistically as the least cool guy in his class, which makes it rough for him to follow through on his crush on the hottest – and therefore most popular – girl around (Brittany Daniel); he therefore enlists the assistance of the least cool gal, Billie (Nicki Clyne), who has a crush on him. Lori, meanwhile, is shocked to discover that dancing is not permitted within the school, though she soon discovers that the janitor (Kattan) is a dancing machine who holds a secret dance instruction class in an abandoned warehouse just outside of town.
As you might guess from that paragraph alone, you’ll quickly lose track of how many ’80s flicks get skewered during the course of “Totally Awesome.” There are overt references to “Footloose,” “Dirty Dancing,” and “Some Kind of Wonderful,” and “The Karate Kid”; the latter occurs when Charlie attempts to win respect from the school’s king jock (Joey Kern) by telling him he’ll beat him in the decathlon, then enlists training assistance from his Asian next-door neighbor, Mr. Yamagashi (Hong). We also get some pretty clear nods to “Soul Man” and “Teen Wolf,” along with a less obvious (but still funny) riff on both “Real Genius” and “Better Off Dead,” with Charlie and Lori having a little brother who’s a super-genius.
Complaining about anyone’s acting being over the top would be a pointless gesture; it’s kind of the point. As much as Chris Kattan generally grates on my nerves, it must be said that his dance scenes with Swain are highlights of the film. Morgan’s role as the guy who speaks for every black man in the world is consistently funny (he ad-libbed 90% of his lines, I guarantee it), and Kern’s complete asshole laugh is so on the money that it never fails to illicit a giggle, no matter how many times he does it.
The film is framed by sequences with Ben Stein, the former Nixon speechwriter who turned the monotone recitation of one simple word (“Bueller…?”) into comedy gold. Stein introduces the movie, purporting that it was actually filmed during the ‘80s but remained unreleased due to the studio suffering financial woes. Of course, no one in their right mind would ever believe that, but on occasion, they have Stein’s head pop up in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, commenting on the events of a particular scene. It’s a funny gag…like when Tone Loc – introduced as Tony Locke – performs a song called “Talkin’ ‘Bout Crazy Stuff” that sounds exactly like “Wild Thing”; Stein then explains that it would be several years before Tone got the song quite right. Frankly, the floating head of Ben Stein doesn’t show up nearly enough, but at least you can’t say the bit is overdone.
What sets “Totally Awesome” above the level of a film like “Not Another Teen Movie” is that it doesn’t spend all its time trying to go after lowbrow gross-out jokes; it teasingly parodies the conventions of ‘80s films, but it’s done with such an eye for detail that it’s obvious the writers – Brennan and Michael Schur (“The Office”) – truly love the films they’re making fun of. The greatest shame is that it never saw theatrical release, but at least you can enjoy it on DVD.
The audio commentary with Brennan and Morgan is a fun listen, if not terribly illuminating; if it seems odd that someone who’s only in the film for a handful of scenes should be on the commentary, Morgan’s presence owes to his longtime friendship with Brennan. The obligatory blooper reel is marred by the decision to have Brennan and Kern host it, interrupting after each outtake, but it’s slightly made up for by the unhosted collections of Kern’s and Morgan’s unused ad-libs. There are also a few deleted scenes; you can see why most of them were cut, but the sequence where Billie takes Charlie shopping to get ready for his date is pretty damned funny…particularly when he tries on, at various times, a satin jacket with the words “Remington Steele” emblazoned on the back, a piano tie, and a pair of ass-less chaps.