Imagine a frat party thrown by the kind of guys who never rushed a frat (due to prior theater and D&D commitments), and you’re halfway to embracing the ethos of Club Dread and its snarkitects, the Broken Lizard comedy troupe. Going the rest of the way depends on your taste for the sort of slack, salty, sporadically ingenious humor you might find at your local improv hole for half the cost of a movie ticket.
Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar and written collectively by the troupe, Club Dread, which opens today nationwide, draws on a popular subgenre of the 50s and early 60s: the monster in paradise, in which various unconvincing beings invade tropical resorts full of scantily clad women and the men who love them.
The tropical paradise here is Pleasure Island, a booze-soaked, low-rent resort owned and operated by a terminally laid-back rock star named Coconut Pete. Pete’s happy-go-lucky manner and repertory of painfully whimsical drinking songs may remind you of Jimmy Buffet, though as Pete huffily points out, his big hit, ”Piña Coladaburg,” predated Mr. Buffet’s ”Margaritaville” by several years.
When a new group of party animals arrives at the island, things seem to be going well enough; the amusements include nonstop drinking and a live-action Pac-Man game, with staff members dressed as fruit running through a maze. But then members of the staff begin turning up dead in various grisly ways (quite grisly, in fact, for a comedy).
Who’s responsible? Is it Machete Phil, a legendary phantom stalking the jungle, or one of the staff members themselves, like the wiry aerobics instructor Jenny, the mysterious new masseur with the magic pleasure touch or the dread-locked tennis instructor, whose British accent is even less convincing than Madonna’s?
The main problem with the film is that the team of actors/writers spent too much time on the development of their characters and not enough on the actual jokes. There are inspired moments and a couple of laugh-out-loud gags, but for the most part the humor is character-based and the characters just aren’t that funny. With that said, the film does pick up in the final act where it abandons any attempt at playing it relatively straight and just goes for the laughs.
Club Dread is a definitive demonstration, if one is needed, that The Real Cancun was way too real. Filmed in Mexico but allegedly set on “Coconut Pete’s Pleasure Island” off the coast of Costa Rica, it’s a head-on smashup between spring weekend and a machete-swinging slasher. Whether it works or not is a little hard to say; like Super Troopers, the previous film by the Broken Lizard comedy troupe, it has lovable performances, very big laughs, and then some down time while everybody (in the cast as well as the audience) waits to see what will happen next. Chandrasekhar’s direction is casual to the point of carelessness, but he does give the movie a friendly, convivial atmosphere that contradicts and sometimes overcomes its frequently cruel humor. In short, this is another film that looks as if it was more fun to make than it is to sit through. Do I recommend this movie or not? I am at a loss to say. It is what it is. Ultimately, criticism is irrelevant. It’s not an absolutely terrific comedy, nor is it a thrill a minute horror movie. It’s highly recommended for fans of Super Troopers, Puddle Jumpers and Beerfest. For fans of comedies or horror, well … I’d recommend it, but just go into it with the knowledge that it’s not the greatest of movies in either of those genres.