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CONDUCT UNBECOMING CRUDE MOVIES CAN BOAST SADLY FORGOTTEN HERITAGE.

Byline: Bob Strauss Film Writer

Kids these days. They think they're so grown-up, what with their dirty movies like ``American Pie'' and ``There's Something About Mary'' and this new one, ``Road Trip.'' All those jokes about body fluids and laxatives and abusing baked goods and, occasionally, actual sex.

It's appalling. It makes me sad for the youth of America. They're wasting their tender sensibilities on this trash and they don't know what they're missing.

Back in my day, after all, they really knew how to make raunchy movies.

Yes, once obnoxiously again, boomers can lord it over their progeny with generally justified, smirking self-satisfaction that we did something else better - or, at least, before - the kids got around to it. Although it can be argued that the current Farrelly/Weitz brothers cycle of ``more- disgusting-than-the-last-one'' outrage comedies are better made and thought-out than the products of a generation earlier, they really don't step in anything that hasn't been wallowed in before.

To begin with, most campus gross-out farces that have come since - from the hormonally slap-happy ``Porky's'' pictures of the early '80s through ``Pie'' and producer Ivan Reitman's ``Road Trip'' - owe just about everything to ``National Lampoon's Animal House,'' the 1978 bible of bad movie behavior. ``Trip,'' itself a full-length riff on a ``House'' sequence, borrows everything from nauseating food gags to uncomfortable racial confrontations to wrecking a nerd's borrowed car to doing terrible things with animals from the earlier Reitman slobfest.

As for the movie's main matter, ``Trip's'' females are no more sexually aggressive than their big ``House'' sisters (though generally a little smarter about it), the guys no less erotically obsessed than the frat-rat alums (if slightly more sensitive, the whippersnappers!) and the depravity just as perverse (though a tad more explicit; watch out for that sperm bank nurse!).

Pretty much the same comparisons can be made between shock comedies of the '70s and any of those of the modern era, which roughly began when Jim Carrey spoke out of a nether orifice in ``Ace Ventura, Pet Detective'' (1994). Basically, filmmakers back then, in the first, er, flush of freedom following the demise of Hollywood's censorious Production Code, let their imaginations wander much too imaginatively in a manner that really hasn't been matched, depth for depth, since.

The fact that the '70s were taboo-breaking times worked in congress with the new movie freedom to create some of the most humorously revolting imagery ever committed to film.

Among the pioneers in this noble endeavor were writer Terry Southern who, after scripting such radical pieces as ``Dr. Strangelove'' and ``Easy Rider,'' set the waste bar unmatchably low in the 1969 adaptation of his novel ``The Magic Christian.'' The climactic scene of that Peter Sellers-Ringo Starr satire depicted a gaggle of English businessmen diving into a vat filled with urine, blood and manure to retrieve free money.

Three years later, the irrepressible John Waters set a different kind of, yes, taste threshold when he encouraged Divine, the transvestite star of his trash epic ``Pink Flamingos,'' to ingest actual dog product on screen.

For pure, concentrated lewd humor, few films have matched the scope and comprehensiveness of Woody Allen's 1972 ``Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask),'' which absurdistly addressed every deviation this side of dating your girlfriend's daughter. As for toilet jokes, is there one modern movie laxative attack (``Dumb and Dumber,'' ``American Pie'') that doesn't owe a formal debt to the campfire scene in Mel Brooks' 1974 ``Blazing Saddles''?

The first generation of outrageous comedy essentially reached its baroque peak in ``Monty Python's the Meaning of Life'' (1983), with its dementedly irreverent ``Every Sperm Is Sacred'' production number and the planetoid-sized Mr. Creosote's fatal bite of the wafer-thin mint, which triggered the most extensive incidence of projectile vomiting in recorded human history.

(A personal note: ``Meaning of Life'' was actually the first film I saw together with my then-future wife, which perhaps confirms the widely cherished belief among young men that girls like these things. Of course, our next date was a French existential masterpiece by Robert Bresson, and she's avoided going to the movies with me ever since.)

So many milestones, such limited stomach capacity. To be fair, the original outrageous comedy cycle spawned its share of - can you believe it? - bad movies: pretty much the whole Cheech & Chong stoner cinema and 90 percent of anything made by a ``Saturday Night Live'' or ``SCTV'' cast member. Then again, the younger crowd has Pauly Shore to answer for, so some things obviously don't change.

To be fair though, the kids, derivative as their gross output may be, are doing more interesting things in these movies than just manufacturing new hair gels. And I don't just mean the creative new use of live chicken in next month's Carrey/Farrelly collaboration ``Me, Myself & Irene.''

For one, these techno-savvy youngsters have come up with clever new electronic methods of voyeurism. John Belushi's old Peeping Tom on the ladder routine and ``Porky's'' hole drilled through the girls' shower wall has been replaced by ``American Pie's'' Internet cam approach to international relations. And the whole crux of ``Road Trip's'' plot is an attempt to retrieve a homemade porn video accidentally mailed to the male participant's longtime but long-distance soul mate.

There's also a tendency nowadays to make the female objects of these films more experienced than the males, physically as well as the more traditional emotionally. This could be the result of a growing feminist consciousness that's finally taking hold in Hollywood. Then again, the plethora of gratuitous toplessness in ``Road Trip'' would indicate that it's more a function of the fact that men are just as immature as ever.

As for the inexplicable interest in defiling grain-based products (beer and the title dessert in ``American Pie,'' French toast in ``Road Trip,'' all probably antedated by the whipped cream-covered nude photos in the transitional, 1984 ``Revenge of the Nerds'') ... perhaps that's the new generation's coded manner of expressing their antipathy to purity, as represented by Mom's apple pie and all that.

Yes, I know, of all the stretched arguments in this piece, that's the thinnest. But it speaks to the one element that, all facetiousness aside, doesn't seem to have made the transition from the '70s to the current run of gross-out wonders: a genuine sense of subversiveness.

Sure, the likes of Southern, Waters, Allen, the Pythons and the truly commercial-minded Brooks and Reitman wanted their films to be successful. But they also wanted to make genuinely upsetting attacks on authority, capitalism, hypocrisy and every institution they could think of that needed to be confronted with its flaws. Their films' prime agendas were to be shocking and funny; being liked was a secondary consideration.

Even the sickest of today's comedies strikes a good-natured, boys-(or men)-will-be-boys tone. Their main aspiration is to play at being offensive in such a fundamentally inoffensive manner that they'll spawn a lucrative franchise of sequels rather than visceral outrage and disgust.

Which is a pretty smart strategy on the ``Dumb and Dumber'' crowd's part - but, also, one that really makes you wonder what the younger generation's coming to.

Approach with caution

Here is a list of five movie moments that still make me wince whenever I think about them. And remember that, much like a proctologist, I'm a trained professional with a built-in tolerance for such things.

1. Gene Wilder caught in bed with a lingerie-clad sheep in ``Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask).''

2. Trailer-park tragedy Dawn Davenport (played by Divine) molested by her stepfather (also played by Divine), who evidently had not removed his underwear for a month, in John Waters' ``Female Trouble.''

3. The calamitous zipper incident in ``There's Something About Mary.''

4. Austin Powers quaffs a beaker of ``evidence'' left behind by Fat Bastard, pronounces it ``yum, nutty,'' in ``The Spy Who Shagged Me.''

5. Sylvester Stallone's recent announcement of his intention to make ``Rocky VI.''

- Bob Strauss

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) Eeeewwww, GROSS!!

'Road Trip' and others of its ilk may up the ante, but raunchy movies were here long before today's kids

Cover design by Lori Valesko

(2) MTV's Tom Green gets personal with a python in ``Road Trip,'' one of the new breed of juvenile comedies following in Hollywood's proud gross-out tradition.

Box: Approach with caution (See text)
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 18, 2000
Words:1404
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