Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

‘Rites of Passage’ was awful. Simply awful. A talent to entertainment ratio that is rock bottom. I mean there are way worse movies out there, but not a lot of worse movies with this level of talent in front of, and behind the camera. If I had my druthers I’d stop there, by I don’t have my druthers, whatever the hell a druther is, and the union requires I gotta find a way to squeeze out another 700 words, so bear with me.

Director W. Peter Iliff’s film opens by telling us that the University of California at Santa Barbara is ranked as the number four party school in all the U.S.A. I’m not completely sure why this is relevant, as the movie plays out, other to justify that the irritating young adults we are about to meet deserve to die because they are not number one. Santa Barbara is really nice. My uncle, Dr. Gerald C. Horne, used to teach at UCSB and we spent some summers out there. If I was rich I’d retire there.

I’m delaying it but I must attempt to tell what this movie is about, which is not going to be easy. There are these college kids that like party, being as how they go to the number four party school in America and all. Every once in a while they like to go to class, such as the class of Professor Nash (Stephen Dorff) who like to perform cunninlingus on his students between classes. He too got the memo about the number four party school in America. Professor Nash is none too happy about the sorry treatment the Chumash Indians got in our country, and lets pretty student Dani (Kate Maberly) know he’s down with her people. She’s half Chumash and could care less, but she is still all slutty drunk at the number four party school, that’s for sure. Nerdy student Nathan (Ryan Donowho) actually lives on an old Chumash burial ground and offered up a proposition to his anthropology professor, that a group of friends get together at his place and perform a Chumash Stoner ritual. Sounds like a plan.

Problem is that Nathan’s psycho brother Benny (Wes Bentley) lives there too, stays high on jimson weed, and is looking for a Chumash Bride to spend eternity with. He’d been driving around campus looking for some random chick to drug, but good fortune smiles his way when drunk party girl Penelope (Brianna Evigan) jumps in his ride. That Brianna… man that girl is fit. This movie didn’t have many highlights, but watching Brianna run for her life in that wacky Chumash bikini was one of them.

Another issue is that Benny has loaned part of his land to the doubly psycho Delgado (Christian Slater) who runs a meth lab and talks to an imaginary stuffed animal with a heavy Cheech Marin accent. Tragically, Delgado’s family was killed by drunk kid coming from a party at the number four party school which has made him karazay! In a completely chance event, Dani the half Chumash chick is that drunk kid who killed his family, and in another freak coincidence, she will be one of the many kids at the ranch to perform the ceremony. What are the chances?

So the stage is set. One loon wants to marry while stoned, the other loon wants to kill partying college kids, while one skinny nerd is all that stands in the way of survival. Let the games begin.

Other than Brianna sprinting in a bikini, there was one more awesome thing in this movie. Nathan the geek pulls out some jimson weed so the ceremony will be authentic, but Professor Nash says ‘not on my watch’. Mind you, these underage kids are drinking heavily, smoking dope, and Professor Nash is screwing a number of them, but now he grabs the reins as a responsible adult. Seriously Professor Nash? Seriously? Not on your watch?

Anyway, I guess my problem with ‘Rites of Passage’ is that I’m not sure what it’s trying to be. Is it a comedy? Christian Slater talking to a stuffed monkey was kind of funny at times, but those few things don’t add up to a funny movie. I guess it could be a horror movie, but it’s one of the most poorly developed horror movies I’ve ever seen if that’s what it’s supposed to be. You know your horror movie is in trouble when you’re actively rooting for these crazy obnoxious college kids to die, and then get upset when some of them actually survive. Maybe it’s like a modern day ‘Reefer Madness’ detailing the evils of smoking unregulated jimson weed. It was completely effective at that, and I can guarantee I will not be smoking that stuff again.

What is certain is that ‘Rites of Passage’ is a complete, incoherent mess of a movie which seems to focus on nothing. A mess created by some high grade talent, to be sure. Or perhaps it’s just so deep that it went over my head, which I have pointed out has happened on more than one occasion. That being said, I’ll let you be the judge of that. But if you want my advice I’d suggest you let this cautionary tale on the evils of jimson weed pass you by.

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