Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Let’s get this tired quip out of the way, as opposed to waiting until the last line of this review.  VH1 films ‘Totally Awesome’ is totally lame.  There.  I said it and I will continue to delude myself into thinking that I’m the first and person to say it.

The premise for ‘Totally Awesome’ is decent enough as we meet a typically deadpan Ben Stein on a backlot stage telling us of a long lost 80’s teen movie in the vein of  '16 Candles’, ‘Footloose’ or ‘Ferris Beuller’ that ran out of money to get it released.  VH1, feeling they don’t have enough 80’s programming (that’s a joke there), have dusted it off and are unleashing it onto the world.  So what we have is a movie that grabs familiar parts of various 80’s teen flicks, most notably ‘Dirty Dancing’, ‘Footloose’, ‘The Karate Kid’, and ‘Better off Dead’ (a personal fave – ‘it’s a real shame when folks be throwing away a perfectly good white boy like that), among other various 80's pop references. 

The movie starts off with the Gunderson’s arriving from Pittsburgh to sunny L.A. where their children Charlie (Mikey Day) and Laurie (Dominique Swain) who find themselves immediately unpopular and uncool at their new school.  Laurie is particularly upset as the town has outlawed dancing due to people’s feet becoming loose and dancing is Laurie’s life.  Then the pop culture references kick into high gear with Charlie needing training for the decathalon from an old Japanese dude (James Hong), Laurie Dancing dirty with a older grizzled cat (Chris Kattan), Charlie wanting to impress the hottest girl in school (arguably, the hottest woman on the planet in Brittany Daniel) while steadily getting abused by the coolest kid in class (Joey Kern).

Since this was written and directed by Neil Brennan, who is best known as Dave Chappelle’s writing partner for the Dave Chappelle Show I had some lofty expectations for this one, and sadly few were met.  It would seem, after watching ‘Totally Awesome’ that the brilliant mind behind such classic nuggets as ‘is Wayne Brady gonna have to choke a bitch?’ and ‘ask a Black Dude’ belongs to Dave Chappelle.  This is unfortunate for Mr. Brennan since he has said in interviews that he and Chappelle will never work together again, mainly due to Dave’s breaching his contract on the third season of the Chappelle Show.  Chappelle apparently feels similarly betrayed by Brennan for being complicit in helping Comedy Central releasing unfinished episodes of the Chappelle Show.  But that’s all Hollywood gossip, back to this shitty movie.

Similar to the dismal ‘Date Movie’, ‘Totally Awesome’ fires the jokes at rapid pace with the theory being that least some will hit their target.  Similar to the dismal ‘Date Movie’, ‘Totally Awesome’ misses way too often and at times is painful to watch.  Unlike the dismal ‘Date Movie’, ‘Totally Awesome’ does manage to squeeze in some actually funny stuff every once in a while, just not enough of it.  The minute you see Chris Kattan dressed up as Patrick Swayze, I can almost guarantee you will laugh.  But that’s a visual, and Brennan is either unable or incapable of writing or staging anything to build on this funny bit.  Similarly, when James Hong pops in as the guise of the late Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi, it’s almost certain to generate a laugh, but again there’s a total failure in doing anything creative or clever with the bit.  So it seems that all of the funny bits were actually pop reference nostalgia visuals, which, if you aren’t aware of them, wouldn’t be funny in the first place.

Comedian Tracy Morgan also makes an appearance as a black student in the high school saddled with the task of making Charlie cool like a ‘black guy’ which leads to a painfully unfunny ‘Soul Man’ reference.  Tracy Morgan is a funny dude, but similar to the rest of the movie Brennan directs him with absolutely no energy.  I assume if Brennan and Chappelle were on good terms that Dave would have done this part.  You lucked out Dave since you do already have ‘Half Baked’ on your resume.

‘Totally Awesome’ was less a waste of time than just a really big disappointment.  It may serve Neil Brennan well to get on his cell and see if he can somehow, someway work something out with one Dave Chappelle, and soon.  What can I tell you, ‘Totally Awesome’ is totally lame.  oops.

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