MTV, so successful at pandering to the youth market via cable television, has had mixed results when attempting to translate the formula onto the big screen.
Last year's "Beavis & Butt-head Do America," the debut effort from MTV Films, was funny, crude and smart enough to gross -- no pun intended -- more than $60 million at the box office. The road-movie starring the animated rabble rousers has racked up even more since its release on video.
On the other hand, "Dead Man on Campus," the company's first venture into live action, by all rights should stiff, disappear quickly and force the company to rethink its partnership with Paramount Pictures. The dimwitted comedy amounts to one inane joke stretched into an impossibly thin 100-minute feature.
It's not as if news of a tacked-on cameo by smarmy "MTV News" anchor Kurt Loder wasn't enough of a warning. Fears of a dud have been raised, too, by television and radio ads that emphasize the "freestyle" soundtrack -- with Marilyn Manson's Dust Brothers-produced remake of David Bowie's "Golden Years" and tracks from Blur, Supergrass and Goldfinger -- as much as the story line.
And the creative team doesn't exactly inspire confidence: First-time feature director Alan Cohn was an editor on the insipid "The Real World"; screenplay credit is shared by no-names Mike White and Michael Traeger; and otherwise accomplished producer Gale Anne Hurd sunk to a new low with this summer's "Armageddon."
The movie's hook is the "dead man's clause," allegedly a rumor prevalent among college students for 25 years, but unheard of on at least one campus, the University of Florida in Gainesville, during the early '80s. Legend supposedly has it that a student whose roommate dies will automatically receive straight A's for the semester, as a sort of consolation prize for all the anguish.
Josh, an earnest scholarship student played by Tom Everett Scott ("That Thing You Do"), and his party-hearty roommate Cooper (Mark-Paul Gosselaar of kiddie television's "Saved By the Bell") find themselves in dire need of such a loophole shortly after midterm exams.
The studious half of the mismatched buddies is convinced by his pal to skip classes in favor of beer blasts, bong hits and casual sex. Not without token resistance, though. "Fun is a dead end," Josh says, with a straight face. "I gotta stay on track." Cooper's similarly prefab response: "College is your last chance to go crazy."
In short order, the two set their sights on three suicidal types who might prove valuable as grade-saving roommates. Lochlyn Munro, who somewhat resembles a young Gary Busey, is Cliff, a lunatic who drinks like a fish, teeters on balconies and screams "pig" at cops. He's no John Belushi. Buckley (Randy Pearlstein) is a paranoid schizophrenic who believes he's being followed by Microsoft honcho Bill Gates. Matt (Corey Page) is an obnoxious goth-rock singer with a secret double life.
Complicating matters is the sexy, smart Rachel (Poppy Montgomery), a creative-writing student who wants more than a one-night stand with Josh, but the apparently widespread rumor is that the buddies share more than a friendship. It's one of those contrived complications-of-misunderstanding right out an episode of "Three's Company."
Unfortunately, any suspense about the conclusion has sagged long before the third would-be suicide case fails to live up to expectations. Josh and Cooper, both fresh-scrubbed and all- American, are rather interchangeable and not able to summon much concern over their plights.
The filmmakers, probably hoping for a '90s "Animal House" edged with black humor, wound up with a forgettable piece of fluff bound for endless unheralded airings on pay cable. Even more offensive is the narrowly targeted marketing that tells Generation Nexters they can't help but love this film, timed to coincide with the start of the new semester.