When it comes to crazy college comedies, there is one film that stands high above the rest…1978’s Animal House. Many films tried to copy the formula. You could say that Revenge of the Nerds is Animal House with smart people; Police Academy is Animal House with cops. So why not Animal House goes white water rafting!? And while we’re at it, let’s actually get two of the former Deltas to star in the film. Strap on your life preservers for 1984’s Up the Creek.
Our story centers on four students from the pathetic Lepetomane University (often referred to as Lobotomy U)…Bob (Tim Matheson), Max (Dan Monahan), Irwin (Sandy Helberg), and Gonzer (Stephen Furst). These guys are the bottom of the academic list and in order to have any hope of one day graduating they need to agree to Dean Burch’s (John Hillerman) request that they represent the school at collegiate raft race.
The boys head out to the wilderness and soon meet the other competitors. The biggest competition is a group of nasty frat boy types (led by Jeff East) who have been equipped with a variety of items to help them cheat their way to victory, donated by a wealthy alum (James B Sikking). Of course, there is also a team of sexy young co-eds, including one of the frat boy’s ex, Heather (Jennifer Runyon), who of course catches the eye of Bob. There is also a team from a military school who get kicked out of the race before it starts and continue to wreak havoc as the racers make their way down the river.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Both Matheson and Furst appeared in Animal House, as Otter and Flounder, respectively. Let’s think about that for a second, though. In 1978 they were playing college students. Now it’s 1984…6 years later. Sorry boys, we ain’t buyin’ it anymore. For cryin’ out loud, Matheson was 36 in 1984! I’m not trying to harp on this detail too much, I mean lots of actors don’t play their age, but here it comes across as a weak attempt to piggyback on Animal House. It doesn’t help that Matheson is doing is same old schtick and Furst is really wasted, doing little more than grunting through much of the film. One bright spot in the cast, however, is Jennifer Runyon. You may remember her as the girl Bill Murray is testing for ESP at the beginning of Ghostbusters, or as the substitute-Cindy in A Very Brady Christmas. She takes her role beyond being just the blonde object of desire and gives her character a feistiness that outshines the rest of the cast.
Up the Creek is mildly amusing, at times, but as you can tell by my description, there isn’t a whole lot of story. The film just kind of drifts down the river and occasionally something happens. I guess my biggest frustration with the film is that the lead characters are so boring. These sort of films live or die on the appeal of their crazy characters. Let’s face it, a movie like Police Academy is no great cinematic achievement, but people love those characters. In this film, the jerk jocks are more interesting characters than the goofballs we’re supposed to be rooting for.
Those who have an appreciation for 80’s college romp films will likely find some things to enjoy about Up the Creek. Put alongside the likes of Animal House, though, it just doesn’t hold its water.