[Written for Film.com]
Summer’s here as far as Hollywood is concerned: put down that Harold Bloom tome and rediscover the smartass, breast-obsessed 13-year-old boy within. As for rediscovering one’s inner 13-year-old girl, well … autumn will be here before you know it.
As if enshrouded in mythology, the silly story of Road Trip is narrated by a perpetual college student, Barry (Tom Green), who recalls the epic journey of four pals traveling almost 2,000 miles to salvage a longtime romance. Sweet, no? No. The tale begins with Josh (Breckin Meyer of Go), who is going to a New York university while his girlfriend Tiffany (Rachel Blanchard) attends another in Texas. It’s their first major separation since the age of 5, and it weighs on them.
It weighs all the more on Josh when Tiffany suddenly grows silent. Josh speculates the worst; his mates suggest his romance has hit the skids, leading our hero to indulge in some carnal healing with Beth (Amy Smart) that ends up on a videotape. When the tape is accidentally sent to Tiffany instead of another featuring a lover’s plaint by Josh, he hits the road with three other guys to intercept the delivery somewhere between Ithaca and Austin.
And a perfect excuse it is to string together lots of sick escapades, such as deceiving a blind woman into loaning them a school bus, raising money by contributing at a sperm bank, and posing as members of a fraternity that turns out to have an all-black membership. Of course, it isn’t just these clowns who get to be funny. All across America, it turns out, there’s a doofus or freak or sicko to be discovered on every corner, and they’re either the source of jokes or the butt of them. Makes you wonder what the just-announced sequel to Easy Rider is going to look like.
Not that Road Trip doesn’t achieve some of the perverted grace the Farrelly brothers cooked up in There’s Something About Mary. The relentlessness of co-writer and director Todd Phillips’s dark farce does hit a certain pitch much of the time, overcoming one’s skeptical resistance enough to get with the program and laugh. When Phillips is out of the zone, however, Road Trip slows down, awaiting another redemption.
It may be obvious to say at this point in history, but Road Trip is one more step in the mainstreaming of an exploitation sensibility that once enjoyed the freedom of cultural irrelevancy. Maestros of shlock knew how to do the things they did very well under the radar of most people and media, and over time some of their films were justifiably perceived as iconoclastic masterpieces.
Thanks to the flip-flop of American cinema culture in the late 1970s and early ’80s, when boy-men began celebrating their B-movie memories in A-movie packaging, exploitation went legit. Now Jeffrey Katzenberg wants to hear what a focus group thinks about a man licking a rodent in Road Trip. I don’t know about you, but I miss the days when an id-driven film felt like a walk on the wild side, instead of the centerpiece of everybody’s Saturday night.