Dir: Jake Kasdan. US. 2001. 81 mins.
Teen comedy Orange County is as sweet and as insubstantial as its title suggests. Relatively subtle by today's gross-out standards, it won't be an easy sell either at home or, especially, abroad. However, the MTV imprimatur and some intriguing credits - star Colin Hanks is the son of Tom, director Jake Kasdan is the son of Lawrence and writer Mike White is best known for his edgy independent picture Chuck And Buck - have already attracted an initial audience of older teens and twenty-somethings. The film has now grossed $28.5m from 2,317 sites after two weeks in the US, and should later translate into decent ancillary revenues.
The fresh-faced Hanks (who has the same kind of amiable good looks as his dad) plays Shaun Brumder, a bright surfer dude who one day turns his back on the beach and sets his sights on Stanford University and a career as a writer. Standing in the way of Shaun's escape from the wealthy comfort of suburban Orange Country are his mildly dysfunctional family - a boozy mother (O'Hara), a loser brother (Black) and an absentee, philandering father (Lithgow) - his old surfer pals, his clingy girlfriend (Fisk) and a bumbling high school counsellor (Tomlin). The plot turns around Shaun's increasingly desperate attempts to turn his Ivy League dream into a reality.
Although it occasionally hints at some darker notes, the film's prevailing tone is cartoonishly bouncy. The feel and visual style are reminiscent of some of the teen TV shows on which Kasdan (whose other feature credits include 1998's Zero Effect) and White have recently worked, most notably the acclaimed but short-lived Freaks And Geeks. Aiming as much at understated quirkiness as over-the-top laughs, the film delivers a handful of funny moments, but many of the gags feel contrived or half-formed.
The dramatic thread is potentially more interesting, but Kasdan never quite manages to successfully interweave it with the comedy. The story's first hour doesn't elicit as much empathy as it might and when the moral does arrive - Shaun eventually learns to accept the foibles of his friends and family - it's far too pat to be satisfying.
If the drama and comedy are somewhat lacking, the performances at least keep things watchable. Hanks shows promise as the story's hapless fall guy and Black - although his part is much smaller than the film's ad campaign suggests - does his familiar stoner schtick to reliably amusing effect. Scattered throughout are brief but enjoyable cameos from performers of the Hanks/Kasdan Sr generation, among them Chevy Chase, Ben Stiller, Garry Marshall, Harold Ramis and Kevin Kline.
Prod cos: MTV Films, Scott Rudin Productions
US dist: Paramount
Int dist: UIP
Exec prods: Herbert W Gains, Adam Schroeder
Prods: Scott Rudin, Van Toffler, David Gale, Scott Aversano
Scr: Mike White
Cinematography: Greg Gardiner
Prod des: Gary Frutkoff
Ed: Tara Timpone
Music: Michael Andrews
Main cast: Colin Hanks, Jack Black, Catherine O'Hara, Schuyler Fisk, John Lithgow, Lilly Tomlin