I had some concerns in last week's Movie Club piece that The Beach Part at the Threshold of Hell might be a terrible movie. The biggest warning sign was the National Lampoon Presents above the title. There was a time when the brand name was attached to some classic comedies and a magazine with a strong satirical bent. Nowadays, the brand brings up thoughts of z-grade direct-to-video sex comedies. How then did this odd little film get into their hands?
It's a sci-fi comedy that's not really that funny. There's a beach party, but no National Lampoon-style cheesecake. There are animated segments, robots, cannibals, Daniel Baldwin, and other assorted oddities, yet not a single Playboy Playmate (that I know of). Does this mean that Beach Party transcends its National Lampoon brand name?
It wasn't a bad movie, but it wasn't an instant classic either. It's stuffed full of ideas, characters, and convoluted plot threads, in a way that reminded me of Richard Kelly's terrible sci-fi satire Southland Tales. In fact, it's hard now for me to sort through all the threads and pin down any details about Beach Party -- it all seems like one jumbled ball of wackiness, but I liked it more than Southland Tales somehow (and I can remember every single bit of why I hated that film).
As a science-fiction film, Beach Party is a fairly strong, unique take on the post-apocalyptic genre. Presented as a quasi-documentary, and with a keen eye for detail, filmmakers Jonny Gillette and Kevin Wheatley milk every single last dime out of their obvious low-budget. They've created a movie that's got a very real unpredictability to it that works well.
Where Beach Party suffers is as a comedy. It's cute and clever at times, but never quite as hilarious as it thinks that it is. The film's worst moments are when it turns a flat gag into a running joke. If it wasn't really funny the first time, it's downright annoying the third time. Strange is not always funny, but too often, that's as far as Beach Party will reach for laughs.
Honestly, I'm going to have to give Beach Party another go, I think. Much like Buckaroo Banzai the first time I saw it, I didn't quite get what it was going for. There's a lot going on, and a lot of it is weird. I think it's worth watching, but I feel like a lot of it went right over my head. Not because it's too smart, but because it's such a spastic film that if you aren't ready for it, it can leave you in its dust pretty quick.
Watch it here, and tell me what you think!