WFTB Score: 12/20
The plot: Running a larkish cable TV show from his parents’ basement, Wayne Campbell’s world is a pretty cool place, made even cooler when he starts dating pretty singer Cassandra and a sponsorship deal lets him buy his dream guitar. Wayne’s coy friend Garth thinks the deal is too good to be true, and he may have a point; for slimy executive Benjamin seems more interested in Cassandra than the success of Wayne and Garth’s little programme.
Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) is a celebrity – a minor one – in Aurora, Illinois. Together with shy sidekick Garth Algar (Dana Carvey), he presents ’Wayne’s World’, an anarchic Public Access TV programme, from the basement of his parents’ house. The friends and their crew hang out in Mikita’s Donut Shop, run by tortured patron Stan Mikita (Ed O’Neill), and rock out in heavy metal club The Gas Works. There, he sets eyes on Cassandra (Tia Carrere), kick-ass lead singer with band Crucial Taunt, and – dodging semi-psychotic ex- Stacy (Lara Flynn Boyle) – awkwardly chats her up.
Meanwhile, oily TV executive Benjamin (Rob Lowe) is alerted to Wayne’s World and sees an opportunity to use its popularity to market the video arcade* run by Noah Vanderhoff (Brian Doyle Murray). Obviously, Wayne couldn’t care less about computer games; but the lure of $5,000 is irresistible, since it allows him to buy the vintage Fender he’s coveted for years. Garth, though, is freaked out by Benjamin’s offer and – as he tells us directly – distrusts him. Benjamin not only takes control of ‘Wayne’s World’ but also vies for Cassandra’s attention, packing the boys off to an Alice Cooper concert and making his move, causing Wayne to be insanely jealous. However, since Benjamin has bought the rights to the show, how on Earth are Wayne and Garth going to put things right?
Hollywood has a decidedly patchy history of transferring TV shows to feature-length film format, which is doubly true for movies based on Saturday Night Live sketches (Coneheads?) and directed by Penelope Spheeris (she would follow Wayne’s World with The Beverly Hillbillies). And initially, you fear this film is going to flop heavily. The ‘Wayne’s World’ segments of the film aren’t very funny, which you can tell because Benjamin’s bedfellow has to insist ‘these guys are so funny’.
Luckily, however, the film soon steps out of its TV boundaries and becomes a clever deconstruction of itself, with numerous, intimate pieces to camera and a knowing sense of its own artificiality, culminating in three alternative endings. Wayne and Garth know they’re in a film, but don’t know they’re just characters, and their rapport and banter with the viewer makes us feel part of the action: just as well when the story itself is paper-thin and some of the references are now puzzling, for example the whole concept of Noah’s Arcade*, or Cassandra’s wide-eyed ‘Where’d you get the CD player?’
What’s more, the movie stacks up a number of funny and memorable moments. It always uses music well, and the Bohemian Rhapsody segment is an early highlight, establishing plot, location and the real-seeming friendships between the ‘Wayne’s World’ gang (they genuinely and frequently laugh at one another‘s jokes). It’s just one of many satisfying sequences: the product placement joke, Wayne and Cassandra’s subtitled Cantonese conversation, Garth (in fact, genuinely Carvey) on the drums, an unexpected Terminator 2 gag, Alice Cooper’s straight-faced history of Milwaukee. These are mixed up with some pleasantly surreal one liners, such as Benjamin’s précis of Noah’s best-selling game, Zantar: ‘Gelatinous cube eats village.’ Jokes like these remain interesting almost twenty years on, when the film’s surfer-dude catchphrases – ‘Excellent!’, ‘Party on!’ and the one-time ubiquitous ‘…Not!’ – now sound dated and a little (pardon the phrase) bogus.
It doesn’t do to overdo the Bill and Ted comparisons, of course, or fret about who copied who; in film terms, Excellent Adventure came first, but Myers’ had created Wayne back in 1987, so he couldn’t have copied Keanu Reeves’ Ted “Theodore” Logan if he had wanted to. The relevant question is “who carries it off better?”, and Reeves wins that battle easily. Myers was 29 when Wayne‘s World was made, and though Wayne is of indeterminate age, he does (with hindsight) look a bit silly in the role, lumbering around like a short, goofy gorilla. On the other hand, he is consistently funny, especially when he‘s not mugging to camera (it’s bizarre that he became a less sophisticated actor with every subsequent film).
The real shock is that Carvey was already past 35, yet captures Garth’s nerdy self-consciousness to a T. His reluctance to speak out, or declare his adoration for his lovely ‘dream girl’ (Donna Dixon), makes him the antithesis of Wayne, and a welcome contrast. Elsewhere, Tia Carrere is sexy, though her relentless, unmusical wailing does get a bit much after a while; and Rob Lowe puts in an unexpectedly strong performance, oozing smarm to brilliantly comic effect – no wonder he featured in the Austin Powers films once Myers had dreamt up his new creation.
It’s perhaps ironic that Wayne’s World derides the appropriation of youth culture by the mainstream for profit, whilst being something of a fake itself; but that’s probably to look at the film more closely than is needed (and, surely, was the satire behind the original SNL sketches). Wayne’s World is essentially fluff, with no plot and no agenda; the movie knows it, and celebrates it. The important thing is that Wayne and Garth are just as much in on the joke as we are, so we’re free to relax, laugh, and – oh, why not – party on.
NOTES: For younger readers: an arcade is where you used to play console games before consoles got up to speed.