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Hanks doesn’t let Black steal show in funny County

Orange County isn’t about a kid who really wants to get into Stanford and is willing to stop at nothing to get accepted. Oh sure, that’s what the advertisements tell us, and for the most part, the film’s plot stays true to that premise. However, the very funny film starring Jack Black and Tom Hanks’ kid is simply an excuse to put absurd characters in outrageous situations in the meager task to get a laugh.

And a laugh it gets. In fact, Orange County’s scribe, Mike White (Chuck and Buck), packs so much humor into one movie, it’s almost shocking this comic gem looks like it could easily be passed up as just another silly Jack Black comedy.

In the film, Black plays Lance, a burnout, who spends his days lounging in his underwear and his nights deciding between speed, ecstacy and marijuana as his recreational drug of choice for the evening.

But Lance only scratches the surface in his family on the dysfunctional side. His mother Cindy (in a hilarious performance by Catherine O’Hara) is a drunk, disgruntled divorcee who is now married to a wheelchair-using geezer named Bob, who serves no purpose other than to be abused and look ludicrously pathetic. Her rich ex-husband Bud (John Lithgow) now lives with his 20-year-old wife and their obnoxious toddler.

These are the characters that make up the surprisingly loving family of Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks), an ex-surfer who became determined to be a writer after reading a book about adolescence written by a professor at Stanford.

When a mix-up leaves Shaun rejected from the school he has been dreaming of attending for a year, he is convinced his life is finished. That is, until his animal loving, marine biologist-aspiring girlfriend, Ashley (Schuyler Fisk), and dim-witted brother convince Shaun to travel to Stanford and confront the dean of admissions (Harold Ramis) in hopes of a miracle.

The supporting cast, which also includes Kevin Kline, Lily Tomlin and Chevy Chase, as well as cameos by Garry Marshall and Ben Stiller, makes this ensemble succeed in being one of the funniest coming-of-age comedies in a long time.

Directed by Jake Kasden (Zero Effect), Orange County tells its sleek story, as a whirlwind of events simultaneously take place and are cut back to one another, similar to a sitcom. However, instead of using each scene to set up a punch line, Kasden invokes so much going on that the scenes themselves serve as one long, running joke throughout.

While Black and company each do respectable jobs in attempting to steal the all-too-balanced show, Hanks emerges as the true star here as his character perpetually tries to clean up the mess his family has left behind.

Black does, however, prove that comic supporting roles may just be his real forte. Although the actor-musician has appeared in more than 30 films, after recent turns in High Fidelity and Saving Silverman, Black may have finally found his niche. Whether he’s half-naked and playing imaginary bongos on his belly or almost-absurdly seducing the admissions office assistant, Black’s Lance is a comic performance to behold. Even if his longhaired, unshaven pot head is probably just an extension of himself, Black’s facial expressions as he reacts to his fellow actors are mesmerizing and well-deserving of the screen time Kasden gives them.

In the end, Kasden, White and the ensemble give us an opportunity to sit back and laugh throughout a journey of seeming self-discovery, yet when it’s simply an exercise in preposterousness.

  • Orange County is Rated PG-13