National Lampoon’s Pledge This!

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There was a time when National Lampoon films were making movie stars out of performers like John Belushi or Chevy Chase. That was the distant past, though, by the time we reached the year 2006. It was a dark time, for rather than centering their films on exceptional comedic performers, they were putting the name Paris Hilton above the title. Like I said, dark times. Brace for impact as we look at National Lampoon’s Pledge This!

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Our story begins as school is starting at South Beach University. A mishap involving an explosive toilet has forced a dorm to be closed down, resulting in a rag-tag group of female freshman having no place to live. The group includes minorities, a lesbian, a chubby chick, a housewife who has gone back to school, and a foreign exchange student from India who goes by the name “Poo Poo.” With no place to live, these girls determine to pledge a sorority. They end up at Gamma Gamma, which is led by the pampered Victoria English (Paris Hilton). Now, normally Gamma Gamma wouldn’t have anything to do with these girls, but they are needing to become more “diverse” in order to win the honor of being FHM magazine’s hottest sorority and ending up on the cover of an issue. Once they have secured that honor they will, of course, discard the newbies before the photo shoot.

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A variety of initiation rituals follow, including making the girls go out to collect hundreds of used condoms. Eventually, one of the girls, Gloria (Paula Garcés) gets fed up and leads an exodus from Gamma Gamma. At the same time, she becomes romantic with Victoria’s go-to guy, Derek (Simon Rex). Victoria still needs these girls to win the FHM prize, though. They end up coming back, but after they are humiliated by Victoria, they launch a plot to get revenge.

At its heart, this film is actually a blatant rip off a film that probably owes its existence to Animal House. Pledge This essentially steals the plot of Revenge of the Nerds. We’ve got a group of outcasts, they are kicked out of their dorm and have to find housing, they suffer the hazing of an evil sorority, and the outcasts get revenge. We even have one of the girls stealing Paris Hilton’s boyfriend just like how Louis steals the head cheerleader from Ted McGinley in Nerds. It’s nearly beat for beat.

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If you recall, the first film to bear the National Lampoon name was also about the college greek system. It was a little flick called Animal House. Who would’ve thought that things would sink to this level. Animal House pretty much pioneered the whole slobs vs. snobs formula that worked so well in tons of 80’s comedies. With this film it’s still slobs vs. snobs, but the chief snob is the central character of the film! Paris Hilton’s character even serves as narrator! You don’t make the character you’re supposed to root against the narrator!?! By focusing this story on Hilton’s character, this film pretty much goes against everything that the name National Lampoon once stood for.

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Putting so much focus on Hilton is a fatal mistake, not just because she is a terrible actress, but also because some of the heroes of the story are actually somewhat appealing characters. I rather liked Paula Garcés as the defacto leader of our central group of sorority rejects. It’s one of those cases where you really feel like this actress deserves way better than the material she’s having to deal with here. A few of the others have some fun moments, too. There’s a weird sweetness to the foreign exchange student with the unfortunate name of Poo Poo, played by Noureen DeWulf. Kerry Kenney also has some funny moments as Kathy, the middle-aged mom who is going back to college to make it with young guys; a revenge plot against her cheating husband. Though, she’s also the character that goes the furthest over-the-top when it comes to the film’s gross-out moments.

Speaking of gross-out moments, they are plentiful and, for the most part, unfunny. We have jokes that involve exploding toilets, a ball of used condoms, vomiting, and being sexually assaulted by Paris Hilton’s dog. It’s not exactly high-concept. It’s also nowhere near the sort of jokes we were treated to in such National Lampoon classics as Animal House or Vacation. Those movies certainly had gross-out moments, but there was a certain nuance to them that made them work. Blowing my nose into a tissue and spooling it through a movie projector would result in more nuanced humor than what this film offers.

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The film does offer a strange selection of familiar faces who pop up in cameos. You can spot comedic actors like Rick Overton as the janitor who must deal with the bathroom mishap and Taylor Negron as a professor teaching about the Kama Sutra. Carmen Electra appears as herself at the FHM party, as does Sophia Vergara. Those with keen eyes may recognize Jennifer Cox, who is best known for playing Jan in The Brady Bunch Movie, as a TV host at the FHM party. If you remember the reality show spoof The Jo Schmo Show, you may also spot one of that program’s cast members, Angela Dodson, in several scenes.

Pledge This may represent the National Lampoon’s fall from grace better than many of their other films. It’s basically the sort of story they would’ve excelled at in the 70’s or 80’s, but this is so misguided.  The type of celebrity personalities who were once the butt of the joke for the Lampoon are now made the lead characters in their movies. How the mighty have fallen.

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