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Reviewed August 13th, 2002 by David Nusair


Orange County, the sophomore effort from director Jake Kasdan, isn’t quite at the level of his debut, Zero Effect; still, the film is an effective and surprisingly funny teen comedy.

Colin Hanks stars as Shaun Brumder, a kid who (as we learn in a pre-credits montage) has decided he wants to become a writer. Nobody really takes him seriously until he writes a short story based on his life in Orange County and applies to Stanford. He seems to be a shoo-in with his exemplary grades and creative writing skills, but his high school guidance counselor (Lily Tomlin) sends in the wrong transcript (a mistake which certainly winds up benefiting stoner Shane Brainerd, who finds himself accepted at Stanford). His girlfriend (Schuyler Fisk) arranges a meeting with a prominent alum of the college, but his loopy mother (Catherine O’Hara) and slacker brother (Jack Black) give the man a terrible impression of Shaun. Shaun’s only alternative left is to take a road trip to Stanford, track down the dean of admissions, and explain to him the mistake that’s been made.

Orange County’s been called Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for the new millennium, and while it’s not quite that good, it’s certainly a giant step above the majority of teen flicks as of late. Written by Mike White (the guy responsible for the vastly under appreciated show Undeclared), the film doesn’t rely on gross-out jokes to provoke laughter in the audience; instead, like the John Hughes flicks of the ‘80s, the laughs come from quirky character motivations that people can relate to.

When the film was released earlier this year, a lot was made out of the fact that the two leads (Hanks and Fisk) and the director are the children of established Hollywood talent. But it doesn’t matter, as the trio easily proves that they’re worthy of standing on their own merit. Hanks, in particularly, is a standout as an affable everyman. The character of Shaun has to be determined without becoming obnoxious, and Hanks ensures that never happens. As Shaun’s girlfriend, Fisk is something of a breath of fresh air. She doesn’t possess the supposed perfect looks so many female actresses have; she just looks normal. And it doesn’t hurt that Hanks and Fisk have great chemistry together.

Among the supporting cast, which is rife with celebrity cameos, Jack Black is easily the most entertaining. As Shaun’s well-meaning but lazy brother, Black steals each and every scene he’s placed in. Other cast members, such as Catherine O’Hara and Harold Ramis, give equally impressive performances (there’s only one instance of someone being placed just for name value – Chevy Chase – but the rest fit into their roles quite well).

Orange County is easily a cut above most flicks featuring teens in central roles, and for that reason alone, it’s worth checking out.

Audio: Orange County is presented with a DD 5.1 soundtrack, and since this is essentially a dialogue-based flick, it’s good but not amazing. Directional sounds are scarce, though when they do crop up, the disc does a good job in presenting them. But this movie is about dialogue, and it’s always crisp and clear.

Video: This 1.85:1 anamorphically enhanced transfer is bright, vivid, and crisp as you’d want it to be. There’s not a speck of film grain or DVD related artifacting, so it’s essentially a winner all around.

Extras: First up is a surprisingly disappointing commentary track with director Kasdan and writer White. Though Kasdan’s commentary for Zero Effect was always interesting, this track is virtually the antithesis of that one. Very conversational in tone, the track contains little information and instead consists mostly of the two joking around with each other. It doesn’t help that White speaks in a monotone and proves to be exceedingly dull. A real disappointment. Next up are four deleted scenes, none of which provide anything to the story. But there’s one really bizarre one with Lily Tomlin that really needs to be seen to be believed. Next are 15 interstitials, which is a fancy way of saying promos. Finally, there’s a trailer.

Conclusion: Orange County is surprisingly enjoyable. Check it out.


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