WFTB Score: 5/20
The plot: Hapless Josh’s doubts about his long-distance relationship with girlfriend Tiffany are compounded when a videotape of a night spent with pretty student Beth is accidentally sent Tiffany’s way. Josh hares across country to Austin, Texas with friends E.L., Rubin and Kyle; but the sheer distance they have to cover in three days turns out to be the least of their worries.
Long-term student Barry (Tom Green) has an interesting tale to tell prospective inductees to New York’s Ithaca College. Once upon a time…Barry is room-mates with Josh (Breckin Meyer), a young man struggling to maintain a relationship with childhood sweetheart Tiffany (Rachel Blanchard), who’s studying 1,800 miles away in Austin. According to Josh’s brash friend E.L. (Seann William Scott), one or other of them is bound to be unfaithful, and it doesn’t take long for Josh to crack when Beth (Amy Smart) throws herself in his way whilst escaping the clutches of creepy teaching assistant Jacob (Anthony Rapp).
Amy kinkily videos their night – and morning – of passion, but Josh’s post-coital grin is soon wiped from his face when he discovers that his friend Rubin (Paulo Costanzo) has recklessly posted that tape instead of a harmless video message. Josh gathers E.L. and Rubin and leans on car-owning naïf Kyle (D.J. Qualls) to race to Austin to retrieve the tape before Tiffany returns from a relative’s funeral. However, the trip soon goes awry, an ill-advised bridge jump writing off Kyle’s car and forcing E.L. to ‘borrow’ a bus from a school for the blind.
As the boys make their eventful way across country, they encounter a fraternity house full of brothers and are forced to take extreme actions to raise cash. Meanwhile, Amy heads off to find Tiffany and Kyle’s dad (Fred Ward) searches for his son, presumed kidnapped or worse – though when they catch up, Kyle is more of a man than he used to be. And Barry? Well, he holds the fort back at Ithaca, which actually means cultivating his morbid interest in feeding live mice to Rubin’s pet snake. None of which will help Josh if he can’t get to Tiffany’s post in time; not to mention the fact that Jacob’s doing everything he can to get him chucked off his course back at Ithaca.
When American Pie brought the raunchy high school comedy back into fashion, it was inevitable that raunchy college films would follow soon after. Road Trip takes up the baton with Seann William Scott on board and an even more adult sensibility, but fails pretty dismally at everything it tries to do. The main problem is that the lead characters are an unappealing cocktail of blandness and unpleasantness, whether through deficiencies in the script, the actors, or both.
It’s worth taking each in turn: Breckin Meyer’s Josh is a rather runty lead, without charm or humour – yes, Jim Levenstein was a loser, but he was a lovable loser – and someone who has no compunction about cheating on Tiffany (he brags about it until he’s threatened with being found out); Rubin, for all his pot-smoking, is almost completely colourless; E.L. is merely a half-witted version of Stifler, if you can imagine such a thing; while gormless, lanky D.J. Qualls raises half a laugh as Kyle because he looks so wrong – it’s a shame the film looks for cheap laughs by pairing him up with the full-figured, rather lovely and sadly deceased Mia Amber Davis.
As for Tom Green’s Barry (surname Manilow, tee hee), there must be fans of Green’s scuzzy, deliberately dim comedy out there, but his performance here tells you everything you need to know about why he never became a mainstream film star (mind you, it may have more to do with Freddy Got Fingered, which I’ve somehow missed up to now).
Like the cast, the rest of Road Trip is a mixture of the wilfully freakish and terribly bland. Much of the story is dull, Beth and Jacob’s individual contributions doing little except padding out the running time (Fred Ward is also wasted); but these are infinitely preferable to the witless parade of coarse caricatures and interludes forced upon the actors as they limp towards Austin. Aside from Kyle’s encounter with Davis’ Rhonda, Todd Phillips brings out an eccentric, grubby motel manager, an unhygienic café cook and an unpleasant toe-sucker, played by the director himself. There’s also a wince-making visit to a sperm bank, a woman with a vibrator, and a dismal episode with Barry’s priapic grandfather and his talking dog, to go alongside gags at the expense of fat people, short people, the blind and so on.
Naturally, there’s nudity too: some of it is male, but they’re clearly not as much fun as naked women, as shown by entirely gratuitous shower scene which is as unsexy as it is unfunny – at least American Pie’s Nadia could claim a modicum of plot relevance. And the gag about the black frat house? No, really, it’s fine, because whereas the black students look mean and scary, they’re actually pussycats who enjoy a good practical joke about the Klan.
I’ve not seen either of the Hangover movies, and it would be wrong of me to judge them with only posters and other people’s reviews as evidence. On the other hand, nothing about Road Trip makes me think that Phillips’ massively successful recent movies operate on anything but the level of the lowest and blokiest common denominator. This one occasionally forces an appalled guffaw, but more often caused me to either yawn, wince or roll my eyes in despair that it’s quite so nasty and yet so stodgy. It’s not rancid on the level of a Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, though it’s not all that far off. Luckily, none of the writers were on board for the superior, if still distinctly mediocre, Euro Trip.