"Academic Salvation through Suicide"
In the tradition of PORKY’s and ANIMAL HOUSE, Paramount Pictures brings us DEAD MAN ON CAMPUS, another masterpiece of white-fraternity-boy humor and just in time for the Beastie Boys’ comeback. Paramount was ably assisted in making this movie by MTV Productions (need we say more?), whose last contribution to the genre, in animated form, was BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD DO AMERICA. In its bald attempts to appeal to a “specific demographic,” MTV’s influence is plainly evidenced by the movie’s constant, pulsating soundtrack. The hip, trendy music nearly drowns out half the dialogue, but maybe that’s a good thing.
The movie’s premise hinges on the ubiquitous college legend that anyone whose roommate commits suicide receives a straight-A report card, in accordance with school policy. The two main characters, Josh (Tom Everett Scott) and Cooper (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), are freshmen at the fictional Daleman College and share a three-man dormitory suite. Josh studies fastidiously on a full scholarship, but it will be revoked if his grades fall below a B+ average. Cooper is a rich ne’er-do-well who never attends classes, but instead parties constantly and devotedly. Cooper has no apparent values beyond his cherished purple bong. The boys’ third roommate has, for all intents and purposes, moved out of the suite to shack up with his new girlfriend.
Despite his vow to keep his nose to the grindstone, Josh is soon literally and figuratively seduced by the modern temptations of college: sex, beer, sex, pot, and sex. His grades inevitably suffer, and he is soon failing all his classes. Cooper, meanwhile, reaps the inevitable rewards of his pursuits and likewise earns less-than-stellar marks. His father threatens to force him to work “out in the field” in the family toilet cleaning business if Cooper can’t pull his grades up.
Both boys must somehow raise their grades to acceptable levels – a “mathematically impossible” prospect, says Josh – or flunk out of school. So they hatch a plan: find a new, suicidal depressed roommate; push him over the edge to self-destruction; and, secure a perfect report card. Piece of cake, right?
Predictably, the scheme goes awry as Cooper and Josh go through a series of crazed roommates who fail to kill themselves. The first pick is a psychotic fraternity goon who complains constantly of being “horny” and thrusts himself against furniture. The second is a paranoid schizophrenic who believes Bill Gates is trying to steal his brain. Making fun of the mentally ill is not everyone’s idea of humor (especially those above the fraternity-boy maturity level), and this bit may make the viewer a tad queasy. The third roommate is a pseudo-depressed British rocker who sings about death and suicide but secretly enjoys showtunes and cheerleading.
Eventually an unexpected attempted suicide crops up, and Josh and Cooper face the “moral dilemma” of whether to pretend the victim is their roommate and let him die, or to save him and forego the straight A’s. It is such a shame to ruin the suspense, but let’s just say that someone ends up a “hero” by choosing the “high road” – or at least the relatively high road.
Needless to say, DEAD MAN ON CAMPUS revels in its puerile humor and has the moral fortitude of the typical MTV fan. Despite its emptiness and the amateurish acting of its young stars, the movie does manage to mildly entertain. Some of the dialogue is clever, although the actors often deliver weakly. In certain scenes, the movie evolves into innocent silliness, and Josh and Cooper’s antics become mildly endearing in a zany way. Gosselaar’s comedic abilities show promise; he may become an engaging actor once he hones his skills.
This sort of movie offers the perfect vehicle for a young unknown to cut his teeth; many a promising comedic career has been launched from the fraternity-boy genre. However, don’t ruin your first impression of Gosselaar by seeing this movie. As with most of its ilk, DEAD MAN ON CAMPUS is not even worth renting, but soon it may run endlessly on Comedy Central or UPN, between MANNEQUIN and WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S.
(PaPaPa, LLL, V, SS, AA, DD, MM) Strong pagan worldview of college students wishing the death of another; 46 obscenities, 31 vulgarities & 16 profanities; mild violence including shoving & kicking, image of bloody bullet wound, one character shoots at a policeman & calls him a "pig," & attempted suicide; no nudity but numerous sex scenes, implied sexual encounters, references to prostitutes & "ho's" in dialogue, & sexual discussions; frequent alcohol use & abuse; frequent marijuana use; and, strong miscellaneous immorality including frequent discussion of suicide, mild denigration of Catholics, lying & deceit, shot of gory cadaver, ridicule of mentally ill, & denigration of human life.