In this time of #MeToo and revelations involving producers like Harvey Weinstein allegedly trading roles for sex, we come to a film that is not going to have aged well for many. It’s one thing, though, when it’s a creepy overweight dude like Weinstein, and a whole other story when it’s a bunch of young lovable doofuses just trying to make a love connection…right? Surely the folks at National Lampoon can show us the funny side of the casting couch. Don’t get your hopes up as we head back to 2006 for National Lampoon’s Cattle Call.
The film follows two buddies, Ritchie (Thomas Ian Nicholas) and Sherman (Andrew Katos)), who are desperate to find true love in LA. Having achieved no success on dating websites, they hit upon the idea to hold a casting call for actresses to appear in a music video…that they have no intention of actually making. With the help of their weirdo friend Glenn (Diedrich Bader), they set up shop in an office and start holding auditions for what soon becomes an “independent film.”
The trio sees many lovely, and slightly bizarre, actresses, and each soon sets their sights on a particular young lady as a romantic conquest. Sherman ends up bedding down with a girl named Reseda (Lisa Arturo), but eventually dumps her for another, Nikita (Chelsea Handler). Meanwhile, Glenn becomes obsessed with an actress named Laurel Canyon (Nicole Eggert)…which I’m thinking is probably a name used at some point by an actual porn actress (update: IMDB confirms). Meanwhile, Ritchie becomes enamored with the most normal and adorable of all the girls, Marina (Jenny Mollen), who has recently arrived in LA and currently lives in her car. Of course, as the relationships get more serious, especially between Ritchie and Marina, the lie gets bigger and bigger. It becomes a challenge for the three pals to keep up appearances that they are actually making a movie. Trouble also comes in the form of an undercover cop trying to get to the bottom of their scam.
Here’s a film that certainly has an uphill battle. After all, it gives us three lead characters who the filmmakers hope we’ll be charmed by, despite the fact that they are engaging in some pretty reprehensible behavior. Though I will give some credit to Thomas Ian Nichols and Jenny Mollen for injecting a smidge of sweetness into the love story between their characters, this film is ultimately a very ugly attempt at mining a few laughs from something that is inherently unfunny. The audition sequences, which take up way too much screen time, are downright uncomfortable to watch as we see a parade of women all too willing to do whatever it takes to get a part in the imaginary film. These scenes are even shot on video, which just makes the casting process seem a lot seedier…which is not a good thing. The ugliness doesn’t stop with the three fake movie makers, though. The character who is revealed to be an undercover cop late in the film engages in some activities with these morons that would pretty much negate any case she might be trying to build against them. For the most part, you can’t really get behind the actions of anybody in this film.
The one small bright spot is the aforementioned relationship between Thomas Ian Nichols and Jenny Mollen. As bad some of these National Lampoon films get, they do often do well in casting sexy but sweet leading ladies who manage to be rather appealing on screen. Jenny Mollen definitely fits that bill. Her character has a lovable spunk that is hard to resist. As for Nichols, he has always been a pretty likable screen presence. He was the kid in Rookie of the Year, after all! There is definitely some chemistry between these two and there is something slightly genuine about the scenes in which we see their relationship start to blossom. This aspect of the film, though, is very much shrouded over by the unseemly nature of the rest of the movie.
All in all the laughs are few and far between. There are a few sequences where some of the actors were clearly allowed to improvise. Some of them produce a few chuckles and some of them have the comedic prowess of your average ingrown toenail. Probably the best of these scenes depicts an awkward date between Diedrich Bader and Nicole Eggert. Bader’s revelation of having had a dream where Don Knotts was trying to kill him was the one audible laugh that the film got out of me. Film director Paul Mazursky appears as a judge towards the end of the film and is obviously making some of his lines up on the fly with modest results. Dismal, though, is the improvised performance of Jonathan Winters as a movie studio tour guide. To say he’s trying too hard would be an understatement.
When you boil it all down, Cattle Call is a movie about ugly people doing ugly things. That’s something that can work in comedy, but it takes a an approach that this film is just not capable of. A few likable cast members keep this from reaching the bottom of the National Lampoon cinematic barrel, but it’s not too far away from reaching that depth.