I was going to review The Mortal Storm this week, but it seems a wee bit too depressing and on the nose, so I decided to save it for later and go for something light. 1992’s Encino Man was the winner. I got it a few weeks ago from the DVD rack at WinCo, and now seemed like a really good time to put it on. It has a little bit of sentimental value for me because my husband and I watched some of it on TV the day after our wedding. Starring a pre-Mummy Brendan Fraser, a pre-Lord of the Rings Sean Astin, a pre-Mentalist Robin Tunney and Pauly Shore, it’s either a lotta stupid fun or just a lotta stupid, depending on which way one looks at it.
It’s wintertime in prehistoric days, when an earthquake hits, burying two cavepeople in ice. Then it’s the present day, and an earthquake wakes up Dave (Sean Astin), a nondescript high school senior who thinks hosting a slammin’ after-prom party will make him popular. His best friend is Stoney, a courtesy title for Pauly Shore, who really plays himself.
Dave spends all his spare time in his backyard digging a massive hole for a swimming pool, and one day after school he unearths a prehistoric bowl. He doesn’t know how valuable it is, but Stoney does, because he watches a lot of Jeopardy. They almost drop the bowl when yet another earthquake hits Encino, which means Dave has to dive to save it, landing on a giant chunk of ice.
He and Stoney freak out when they see there’s a caveman inside, but they waste no time digging him out of the pool, Dave taking Polaroids the whole time. After propping up the icy mass on sawhorses with a space heater melting the ice, Dave and Stoney head off to school, where Dave stares at his childhood friend-turned-crush, Robyn (Megan Ward) and her boyfriend, Matt (Michael DeLuise) gets all territorial.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the iceman (Brendan Fraser) thaweth, and he’s understandably confused. He barrels through the house, and except for a brief moment of dancing to “Treaty,” he’s freaking out. Dave and Stoney find him in Dave’s room, where he’s busted up Dave’s guitar for firewood.
The first thing to do, of course, is to get the poor guy cleaned up and brought into a new century, and after an intensive treatment involving shampoo, mouthwash, soap, a razor, and scissors, he’s a new man. Stoney wants to call him Stoney, but Dave says he should be called Link. Communication is a bit rudimentary, but Link is a fast learner.
Well, not too fast. To explain Link’s broken English, Dave and Stoney say he’s an exchange student from Estonia. Link blends right in, even if he does have some strange habits, like cooking dissection frogs over an open flame and then eating them. The girls all have big eyes for him, especially Robyn’s friend, Ella (Robin Tunney), who invites him to a hockey game. Suddenly Link is the most popular guy in school, and Dave and Stoney by extension.
Dave and Stoney are still Dave and Stoney, though. Stoney whisks Link off to the conveniece store, where they slurp Slurpees straight from the tap and nosh on microwave burritos before heading off to Magic Mountain, where they go nuts riding the Viper and messing with the guy dressed as a panda bear. Stoney brings Link back wearing oxide sunblock on his nose and wiggling his fingers just like Stoney.
Link seems to like his new home, but it’s not really his home, and just like Dave and Stoney he has to find where he fits in. He may also find himself in a crazy, smoky bar close to the border and drink a bowl of salsa before hitting the dance floor, but that niche has got to be somewhere.
A movie like Encino Man doesn’t get especially deep, and this film definitely has what can be called guy humor. One of the first words Dave and Stoney teach Link is, “gazongas,” or as Stoney says, “cones.” Yeah, guys look at women, but this kind of thing is all over the movie, and it can get uncomfortable. Not as bad as some films from the period, but still there. Then again, this is Encino Man we’re talking about, and nothing is really subtle.
The movie, as dumb as it is, does have its strong points, one of them being Brendan Fraser. This guy, bless him, plays a great goofball, and in a movie where he barely says a coherent sentence (well, not in English, anyway), he has to rely on his physical presence to keep Link relatable. Fraser kills it because he’s just so cute, and his face is very often a bemused mixture of caveman bullishness and childlike wonder. He gets to do a lot of dancing in the film as well. It seems kind of random, but it’s also completely natural for a character like Link who’s in an environment where nothing is familiar, and dancing is comfortable for him. It’s familiar territory for Brendan Fraser fans, because it’s not the first time Fraser has danced in a film.
The other big strong point, and I never thought I would say this, is Pauly Shore. I remember how annoyed a lot of people were by this guy in the nineties–noses would wrinkle when Pauly Shore was mentioned. People would laugh at his schtick, but I can’t remember anyone actually admitting to liking his movies. The critics weren’t kind to Shore, either, and they just got meaner as time went on.
Almost thirty years later, though, his act feels comfortably nostalgic. I can honestly say that there’s been no one like Pauly Shore since Pauly Shore. Adam Sandler? Nope. Sean Michael Scott? Nope. Seth Rogan? Nope. Ashton Kutcher? Cute, but nope. Carrot Top? Ick. Heck, no. There really isn’t anyone like Pauly Shore. He’s not as versatile as Robin Williams was, with rapid-fire ad-libbing and an endless arsenal of accents and voices. Pauly Shore is the fella with the crazy hair and the crazy clothes who goes out and howls at the moon. Literally.
In Encino Man, Shore plays himself, ad-libbing his way through the movie. Anyone who has seen Son-In-Law will recognize everything he does here. The other characters in the movie have to basically go along with whatever Shore is doing, and their faces say that they really don’t know what to make of him. Even Sean Astin’s Dave, who’s supposed to be Stoney’s best friend, is kind of overshadowed.
The only person who isn’t eclipsed is Link, who thinks Stoney’s completely normal, which is why he picks up on Stoney’s mannerisms. The trip to the convenience store, while kinda gross, is the best example, especially when Stoney explains the four food groups. They’re all candy, of course. When Link catches a fly during dinner at Dave’s house, Stoney chirps, “Meat group!” It might have been fun for Brendan Fraser and Pauly Shore to make another movie together, but apart from a very brief scene in Son-In-Law, they never did. Oh well.
Besides that, the movie is really weak. Most of the characters are annoyingly inane, especially Dave’s parents. The plot, what’s there of it, meanders and doesn’t have all that much of a payoff. Sean Astin, as competent as he is, seemed like he was trying too hard. Well, his character definitely was, but I wish they could have given Astin something more to work with. He doesn’t get to do much as far as comedy, although there’s a scene where Matt staples him to the wall and sets off the school fire alarm. Unfortunately the bit is too quick to let any potential comedy play out.
It’s hard to say what the filmmakers were going for with Encino Man beyond it being a silly bro-comedy aimed at Gen-Xers. Maybe they thought they could ride Bill and Ted’s coattails, who knows. Or Wayne and Garth’s, since Encino Man and Wayne’s World came out around the same time. I remember the movie doing kinda well in 1992, but it wasn’t something people were breaking their necks to go see. The critics were and still are pretty merciless.
Sometimes, though, you just need something stupid, and if that’s the case, Encino Man just might be a passable escape.
Coming up in July (can you believe it?):
If anyone would like to participate, here are the people to see:
- Charity from Charity’s Place
- Maddy from Maddy Loves Her Classic Films
- Tiffany and Rebekah from Pure Entertainment Preservation Society
- Gabriela from Pale Writer
All right, thanks for reading, all, and see you on the first with a rather tuneful “Stage To Screen”…
Encino Man is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.