Orange County

Orange County (2002)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Jack Black
Extras: Commentary Track, Promotional Spots, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer

At first glance, "Orange County" could easily be dismissed as Hollywood nepotism at it worst, as the film stars Colin Hanks (son of Oscar winner Tom Hanks), Schuyler Fisk (daughter of Oscar Winner Sissy Spacek) and was directed by Jake Kasdan (son of Oscar nominee Lawrence Kasdan). But, if one looks beyond the film’s pedigree, one will find "Orange County" to be a smart comedy which delivers laugh and a simple message in a clear and concise way.

Hanks stars as Shaun Brumder, a teenage resident of Orange County, California, which is a very affluent and superficial community. He sees himself as the typical teen, interested more in surfing and partying than in school, until a tragic event forces him to take a look at himself. Shaun decides that he wants to shake off the Orange County lifestyle, go to college at Stanford, and become a writer. He feels that the negative influences of his alcoholic mother (Catherine O’Hara), his narcissistic father (John Lithgow), his stoner brother Chad (Jack Black), his animal-loving girlfriend Ashley (Schuyler Fisk) and his surfer friends (Kyle Howard & R.J. Knoll), will keep him from becoming a great writer, so he therefore must leave Orange County. But, when his plans to attend Stanford go awry, Shaun’s life suddenly turns into a nightmare, and he finds that he will do anything, even enlisting the help of his brother, to get into the acclaimed school.

If the premise of "Orange County" doesn’t sound very original, that’s because it isn’t. The film borrows liberally from Savage Steve Holland’s "Better Off Dead" and "How I Got Into College", with a dash of John Hughes thrown in for good measure. (Actually, at times, the film feels like a homage to Holland.) Fortunately, the originality of the story isn’t the key factor here, as "Orange County" offers enough fun, vibrant, and fresh characters to overcome the shortcomings of the plot. Writer Mike White (who also appears in the film as the clueless teacher, Mr. Burke) and director Kasdan portray Orange County as a place where people don’t really know anything, but can’t stop talking. The only character here who appears to have a clue is Shaun, and he becomes a very strong link to the audience, as we become trapped in his vacuous nightmare along with him. The script is very clever and smart, and Kasdan fills every scene (if not every shot) with some sort of joke. The comedy here is much broader than in Kasdan’s "Zero Effect", but there are also some very subtle jokes that one may not catch on the first viewing.

The bright script is only enhanced by the fine performances here. Colin Hanks is in almost every frame of the film and does a fine job carrying this movie. Yes, at times he does appear to be channeling his father, but he brings enough spirit, heart, and emotion to the role to make it his own. As Shaun is the straight-man here, Hanks is called upon to deliver many comedic responses and his timing is very good. Of course, it must be said that Hanks gets a lot of help from the supporting cast, as pros like O’Hara, Lithgow, Garry Marshall, and Harold Ramis, give him a lot to work with. But, the greatest kudos must go to Jack Black, who steals the show. Going from sluggish to a whirling dervish in just a matter of scenes, Black chews the scenery with aplomb, combining great delivery (despite what one may think, the commentary confirms that Black is rarely ad-libbing) and fine physical comedy. During the third act, his role devolves into little more than a John Belushi impression, but he undeniably has the best lines in this very funny film.

Paramount Home Video puts "Orange County" on the DVD map. The film has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing practically no grain (despite the fact that many shots take place outdoors in the California sun) and no distortion. There is one shots where there is some interference with horizontal lines, but one must look quick to catch this. The image is stable and the colors are fantastic. As the setting is a colorful place, Kasdan has retained a very natural look with this film and the reds, blues, and greens all look great. This is a practically flawless transfer.

It is safe to say the same of the audio track as well. The <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> audio track delivers very clear dialogue and sound effects with no distortion or hissing. The track is very well-balanced, as the music and effects never drown out the speech. Surround sound effects are used liberally, and the soundfield is quite good. The bass response is noticeably good, as the film features nearly non-stop rock music. This fine audio reproduction definitely adds to the experience of "Orange County".

The extra features on this DVD are kicked-off with a disappointing <$commentary,audio commentary> featuring Kasdan and White. While both are clearly enthusiastic about the film and have a lot to say, their speech is still very dry. They spend more time congratulating each other and lauding compliments upon the actors appearing in cameo roles than giving information about the film. At times, it’s easy to forget that the two people talking were directly connected to the creation of the film. There are some interesting tidbits dropped here and there, but if you listen to commentaries to learn about how/why/where films were made, this one will be a let-down.

This DVD also features four deleted scenes, two of which are throw-aways, while the other two are worth watching. One features the set-up for a joke which appears in the film concerning Shaun’s view of college students, and the other is a brief but funny speech from Jack Black. Next up are 15 interstitials, which are simply custom-made promotional spots, most of which aired on MTV. (Similar product was found on the "Zoolander" DVD.) While six of these are comprised of footage from the film, the other nine use original footage featuring Chad attempting to help Shaun create a video and peer recommendation for his college application and also additional scenes involving the inane Mr. Burke and his incompetent take on English literature. These shorts are a great addition, as they retain the tone of the film. The extras are rounded out with the theatrical trailer for the film. Unfortunately, the music video the Foo Fighters’ song "The One" is not included here.

"Orange County" is one of the funniest films that I’ve seen in quite a while. The premise may be hackneyed, but the film is fun nonetheless, as it features eccentric characters doing zany things. The performances are good, with Jack Black coming away as the star of the film. This DVD features a fantastic transfer, excelling in both the audio and video department. The extras are a mixed bag, but the original interstitials are a must-see. Those of you looking for a "teen comedy" that doesn’t go the "gross-out" route should definitely visit "Orange County".