MOTW: "Super Troopers" by Broken Lizard Breaks Standard Theatrical Entertainment Boundaries

Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures
January 27th, 2014

"Super Troopers" is the cinematic brainchild of the comedy troupe Broken Lizard. The group initially formed while its principal members were students at Colgate University. They were active in the school's theater department, and the group performed in clubs and on other college campuses following the crew's graduation. Ultimately, the group began producing feature-length comedic and satirical films, with "Super Troopers" being the pinnacle of their efforts to date.

"Super Troopers," a comedy released in 2001, tells an offbeat tale of a fictional band of rural Vermont state troopers. Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures after receiving a positive audience response at the Sundance Film Festival, "Super Troopers" enjoyed moderate box office success during its initial run. Since its release, "Super Troopers" developed an intense cult following akin to that of David Lynch's "Erasure Head" or the iconic "Rocky Horror Picture Show."

"Super Troopers" approaches silver screen entertainment in a markedly different manner. Written and starring an off-beat comedy ensemble, the Broken Lizard, "Super Troopers" was arguably destined to be a unique entertainment experience from its inception. The comedy troupe consists of Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske. In addition to receiving screenwriting credits, Chandrasekhar also directed the flick.

The production of "Super Troopers" parts paths from other films when it comes to production. No studio was involved in any manner in the production of the movie. However, a studio entered the picture post-production to distribute the film nationally and internationally. The setup gave the Broken Lizard creative team absolute creative control over the production. This structure differs vastly from what generally occurs in the commercial motion picture industry.

The lack of a studio's shadow over the production provided Broken Lizard tremendous leeway when it came to the script. It also permitted more improvisation and ad lib deviations from the screenplay. The net effect is on-screen humor that pushes the envelope in a way not usually realized in a studio-produced movie.

"Super Troopers" parts company with standard films because of its absence of major stars populating the leading roles. Lynda Carter, the 1970s television version of Wonder Woman, does make an enjoyable cameo appearance. Although the Broken Lizard group gleaned broader recognition after "Super Troopers" and in a couple of subsequent feature film productions, the members were relatively unknown individually and collectively at the time of the movie's release.

"Super Troopers" can be considered stand-up comedy sketches gathered and displayed on the silver screen. The screenplay and performances penetrate the boundaries of traditional good taste. For instance, the story includes over-zealous state patrol officers waging a war rooted in pranks against a local police department and a state government intent on shutting them down. Although there exists an overall plot arc, which is standard feature film fare, in the end "Super Troopers" is more of a unique joining of interrelated sketches familiar to variety shows and stand-up comedy.

No large budget existed for the production of "Super Troopers." This resulted in another major departure from the standard entertainment norm in the motion picture industry. The importance of the screenplay and the efforts of the cast become all the more crucial when a film is produced in a financially bare-bones manner, which impacts the end result of the entertainment experience provided to moviegoers.

The strong, committed fan following that elevates "Super Troopers" to cult status is hungry for a sequel. The film studio 20th Century Fox had extended a distribution deal to Broken Lizard to complete a second film. However, the studio does not intend to fund the anticipated $15 million in production costs, leaving the Broken Lizard crew ruminating about how to finance the project. Yet again, the group is likely to part paths with the typical Hollywood course. They are discussing independent financing options, including enlisting the Internet funding site Kickstarter. In fact, Broken Lizard would not be completely unique in using Kickstarter for a major feature film. The producers of the "Veronica Mars" movie have already utilized that resource for production costs.

The film departs from typical Hollywood offerings, which tend to be laden with themes and subtext. Moviegoers consistently are called upon to scratch the surface to realize the true meaning of a standard Hollywood movie. Such is not the case with "Super Troopers." The film proudly presents itself as being all surface, a plot-based romp lacking any substantial theme or message. If anything produced by the movie industry in recent years can be classified as pure, unadulterated entertainment, it is "Super Troopers."