Back-To-School: "PCU" Review

Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

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Back-To-School Month: "PCU" Review

Rating: PG-13 (language, drug content, and some sensuality)
Length: 79 minutes
Release date: April 29, 1994
Directed by:Hart Bochner
Genre: Comedy

The early 1990s were rife with political correctness, a social condition lambasted in this cheeky college farce. It isn't as original or as outlandish as it could be, but audiences manage to enjoy the movie for what it is instead of what it could be. Funny, irreverent, and ironic, "PCU" manages to celebrate the thrill of offense while preserving everyone's right to be treated with a fair amount of respect.

Some movie critics complained that "PCU" didn't go far enough. Throwing meat at vegetarians, displaying troupes of feminists decked out in military uniforms, and other rebellious displays stayed within the lines of what mainstream society deems acceptable, at least to some degree. Fringe groups often annoy the masses, and viewers enjoy poking fun at them. It isn't because they're different. As the tagline of the movie explains, "Flunk 'em if they can't take a joke." This movie is focused intently on razzing the campus's uptight elite. However, it doesn't go so far that the audience is offended, unlike other movies in the genre.

Instead, viewers get the benefit of watching the downfall of the college's PC-obsessed candidates who seem to flood the campus. This is especially true for Port Chester University's president, Ms. Garcia-Thompson (Jessica Walter, "Arrested Development") and her sidekick, Rand McPherson (David Spade, "Tommy Boy"). The duo chase around aimlessly, trying to foil the plans of campus rebel and politically incorrect poster boy, Droz Andrews (Jeremy Piven, "Entourage"). What plays out is a hectic, hilarious day in the life of a college senior who has given up and just wants to have fun on his way out.

Granted, Droz isn't nearly as memorable of a character as Val Kilmer's Chris Knight in "Real Genius." He isn't as over-the-top as Ryan Reynolds' Van Wilder either. In truth, Droz is a little tame for most college campuses and stands out at Port Chester only because it's a PC university. With the PG-13 rating, the movie never goes past a few swears or party scenes. It's tamer than "Animal House" and a whole lot more family friendly than "Porkies" will ever be. As a product of 1994, it mimics its own antagonists in the way that tries a bit too hard not to offend.

The movie starts out as prospective student, Tom Lawrence (Chris Young, "Book of Love"), visits the campus. A mistake in the office assigns him to Droz Andrews, who does everything in his power to push him off on someone else. No one's buying, so the kid is stuck with Droz for the day. They wander from ridiculous scene to more ridiculous scene while being pursued by the university president and her lackey.

Critics have pointed out the similarities between the "PCU" party house, the Pit, and the fraternity in "Animal House." When compared, it does seem the authors were either heavily influenced or paying homage to the older film. Even characters like Gutter (Jon Favreau, "Swingers") seem reflections of the 1970s blockbuster starring John Belushi and Kevin Bacon.
That said, "PCU" retains its own unique style with a watered-down version of rebellion that's perfect for young teens and their parents. Half the fun of "Animal House" was it did raise a ruckus. It's obvious from the get go that this movie isn't just taking place two decades later; it's also aimed at a different audience. Although, according to the writers, Adam Leff and Zak Penn, the story is based on their experiences at Wesleyan University.

In the end, The Pit winds up in peril as President Garcia-Thompson fines Droz and his housemates thousands of dollars. With the help of George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic, they raise enough money to stay organized on campus and in control of their house. A humiliated Rand McPherson is run off campus by a brawling mob, and Tom heads home from his visit sure that PCU is in desperate need of students like him who'll challenge the overwhelming restrictions of a campus that's PC to the point of being destructive.

In the end, it really is a feel-good story, and one that parents and kids can watch side-by-side. Its biggest criticism is also the movie's biggest benefit. "PCU" enjoyed contributions from many talented, trusted moviemakers, from scripting to sound and edits. Unfortunately, conflicts in the filming schedule and disagreements between the actors and writers detracted in their own way. Despite the hardships, the movie continually ranks among the top ten college capers of all time.

Rated: 3 out of 5 stars