On the surface, Broken Lizard’s Club Dread is an awkward, unfunny spoof about murder on an island getaway. Under the surface, too, an awkward, unfunny spoof about murder on an island getaway. Club Dread is the newest soon-to-be-underground hit from Broken Lizard, a comedic team who wrote and directed Super Troopers, a small-scale comedy that achieved cult status after going to home video. It was the kind of film you either “get” or not. The humor was clumsy and discomforting, and catered to a specific audience of anarchist teens. Club Dread is much the same. Though there is more of an attempt to go mainstream and please the masses (being a semi-parody and all), this newest effort is still a hit-and-miss affair.
The film opens like an early 80’s-style slasher, with a masked maniac chasing a bloodied young woman through a far-flung forest, the style mimicking the shaky camera and merciless screaming that genre fans have come to love. But the real scares begin when a washed-up rock star named Coconut Pete (Bill Paxton) opens an island resort full of booze and half-naked young women. As such, Club Dread is equal parts “Scooby Doo” and Friday the 13th, with all of the campiness intact.
Coconut’s staff of walking clichés includes Sam (Erik Stolhanske), the hard-hitting leader of the “fun police;” Jenny (Brittany Daniel), the limber fitness instructor; Juan (Steve Lemme), a Hank Azaria-like diving instructor; Putman (Jay Chandrasekhar, who co-wrote and directed), a twitty tennis coach; Dave (Paul Soter), the drug-dealing DJ (and nephew of Coconut Pete); and Lars (Kevin Hefferman), the newbie masseuse whose touch can render anyone into putty. But the party crashes when dead bodies start turning up left and right. As in a game of “Clue,” everyone is suspect.
The strangest element of Club Dread is that it is not an outright spoof in the same sense as, for example, the Scary Movie series. The scare sequences are weirdly straightforward, almost intentionally humorless. The aforementioned opening is more a recycling of same than a parody of slasher films. When the action cuts to some comedic goings-on, the tone shifts drastically. The combining of these cartoonish characters with what seems to be a serious threat is a mixing of oil and water.
The biggest scare is how few laughs there really are. Many of the jokes fall flat, based on adolescent-quality double entendres about sexuality that most fifteen-year old boys could have whipped up in four seconds. Consider a “flirt” moment that we have seen a dozens times over. Lars is talking to Jenny about how tense her back muscles are. When he comments on how tight she is, Jenny responds “I guess some girls are tighter than others.” Get it? To say that the funniest joke in the movie is how Juan pronounces the name “Penelope” the way one pronounces the word “cantaloupe” can only hint at how bankrupt the stabs at humor are. It seems as if the Broken Lizard crew had a lot more fun making this film than viewers will watching it. It’s as if the cast were high and we’re still sober.