The National Lampoon films are usually defined by a certain style of comedy. Since Animal House kicked things off in 1978 the films have generally had pretty simplistic plots peppered with what many would consider crude and juvenile humor. The last thing I’d expect out of the Lampoon is a complicated, door-slamming farce…but that’s what we got in the 2003 effort, National Lampoon Presents: Dorm Daze.
The story is very complicated and has a lot of twists and turns, so to try and give a blow by blow summary would be head spinning. We’ll just keep it all very basic. The madness takes place in a co-ed dorm where annoying horndog Styles McFee (Patrick Renna) has decided help his younger brother/roommate Booker (Chris Owen) conquer his virginity problem by hiring a hooker named Dominique (Boti Bliss). At the same time, a French foreign exchange student, also named Dominique (Marie-Noelle Marquis) is also due to arrive. As you may have figured, a massive case of mistaken identity is on the horizon.
This isn’t all that conspires to cause problems, though. There are also various love notes being passed around and ending up in the hands of the wrong people. Meanwhile, another student, Tony (Edwin Hodge), has been practicing a script for his drama class with another dorm resident named Adrienne (Cameron Richardson). The scene, which deals with a pregnant girlfriend and a breakup, is overheard by the dorm’s two resident busy bodies, Marla (Danielle Fishel) and Lynne (Jennifer Lyons), which leads them to blab to Tony’s girlfriend Claire (Tatyana Ali). As if all that wasn’t enough, there is also a student named Geri (Marieh Delfino), who accidentally receives a bag full of money from a shifty guy named Lorenzo (Courtney Gains). The bag just so happens to be an exact duplicate of one belonging to Claire, and borrowed without permission by Adrienne. To make an already long story short, hijinks ensue.
I confess to having a bit of a soft spot for wacky screwball farces. Though I wouldn’t dare put Dorm Daze in the same category as some of the greats, I gotta admit I found this film to be silly fun. That the film ultimately works is no small feat. The intersecting storylines get quite complex and there are definitely more characters than would’ve been considered safe. Yet, the situations play out in satisfying, and at times surprising ways. Plus, the wide selection of characters are all distinctive and never seem to get in the way of each other. Sure, the film is nowhere close to being a noteworthy cinematic achievement, but director’s David and Scott Hillenbrand pull of a juggling act that is quite impressive.
The cast is actually quite appealing; filled with a number of people that make you go “hey isn’t that what’s-their-face?” Among those you may recognize are Tony Denman, who was once little Scotty Lundegard in the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. Here he plays the charmingly awkward Newmar, who is desperate to confess his true feelings for Cameron Richardson’s Adrienne. She also steals several scenes as the obligatory geeky cute girl. Some of the funnier moments come courtesy Jennifer Lyons and Danielle Fishel (yes, Topanga herself) as the two dorm residents who always seem to have their noses in everyone else’s business. One of the most recognizable faces is Patrick Renna, aka Ham of The Sandlot fame. He plays the film’s most unlikable character, but at least he gets what’s coming to him, so to speak. It was also kind of fun seeing Children of the Corn’s creepy red-head Courtney Gains as a nasty gangster type with a strange birthmark that covers almost all of his right hand. All in all, the cast manages to do a skillful job with the material, and may actually elevate the quality of the script itself.
Most of the film takes place inside the dorm building, which by the way, is the fanciest dormitory I’ve ever seen. The filmmakers do a solid job of giving the audience a good understanding of the layout of the building as we quickly jump from room to room. I really enjoyed the few outdoor scenes of the film, though, which cast San Diego’s Balboa Park as the unnamed fictional college. Having just visited this location myself about a year and half ago, I can tell you it’s a beautiful spot and the Spanish Colonial style buildings that fill the park make for a picturesque college campus in this film.
Dorm Daze was not at all what I expected it to be. Heck, the DVD cover features an image of one of the male cast members peering at us from between a girls’ legs. I suppose they wanted potential viewers to think this was another National Lampoon sex romp. It actually ended up being a fun little screwball farce which, so help me, had me more than a bit delighted.