`Orange' sweeter than expected

`Orange' delivers an unexpected sweetness Review: It's not deep by any means, but the teen comedy's message, at least, is sincere.

January 11, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Orange County isn't terribly funny. But it's not terribly mean, either, and in an era in which teen comedies should be graded by their raunch quotient, that counts for something.

It also has a certain Wizard of Oz-like quality that earns points for sincerity, if not execution, with its central message that dreams are best realized from one's own doorstep.

Colin Hanks (son of Tom) plays Shaun Brumber, a high school overachiever with his sights set on Stanford - a school with two advantages. First, its faculty includes Marcus Skinner, whose novel, Straight Jacket, has inspired Shaun to want to become a writer. And second, it would get him away from his oddball family, a group of misfits who pain him on a daily basis.

His parents are divorced: mom, Cindy (Catherine O'Hara), is a boozer and emotional cripple. Dad, Bud (John Lithgow), is a clueless, womanizing millionaire. And older brother Lance (Jack Black) is a drug-addled lunatic, though not without his good side.

Rescue from this assortment of oddballs seems certain, until Shaun's college counselor sends the wrong transcript to Stanford, which turns him down on the spot. A crushed Shaun hits the road to plead his case directly to the dean of admissions, accompanied by his ever-patient girlfriend, Ashley (Schuyler Fisk) and - regrettably - Lance.

Hanks, while agreeable, isn't much of a screen presence. Old pros Lithgow and O'Hara prove invaluable in keeping the comedic wheels spinning, and Fisk (Sissy Spacek's daughter) gives the film what heart it has and a sincerity it maybe doesn't deserve.

But it's Black who nearly steals the show. His Lance is reminiscent of John Belushi at his best: a sweet-faced anarchist whose best intentions don't prevent him from making a mess of things. He's a riot, and the movie slows down considerably when he's not onscreen.

Orange County fizzles at the end, as Shaun's intellectual epiphany doesn't evolve, but rather is dictated to him. But at least this is a teen comedy where the main character has an epiphany. And you don't see that everyday.

Orange County

Starring Colin Hanks, Jack Black, Schuyler Fisk

Directed by Jake Kasdan

Released by Paramount Pictures

Rated PG-13 (language, drugs, violence)

Running time 82 minutes

Sun score: ** 1/2

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