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Friday, August 31, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

'Summer' fun is in its freshness

Seattle Times movie critic

As a parody, the likably silly "Wet Hot American Summer" seems a bit late to the table — it satirizes the '70s/'80s summer-camp movie, a genre that's lately been as rare as a Ruth Buzzi sighting.

I mention Ms. Buzzi because she's mentioned in the movie: Standing in the mess hall, camp director Beth (Janeane Garofalo), trying to get campers' attention, shouts, "I am not Ruth Buzzi standing here!" Now, I'm old enough to know who Ruth Buzzi is (just barely, mind you), and I still don't quite get why this line is funny, but it is.

So is most of the movie, in a fresh, low-budget, slapdash sort of way. Pity that USA Films has chosen to bury "Summer," with a tiny release on one of the quietest movie weekends of the year.

"Wet Hot American Summer"

***
Starring Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Molly Shannon, Paul Rudd, Michael Showalter. Directed by David Wain, from a screenplay by Showalter and Wain. 97 minutes. Rated R for strong sexual content, language and a drug sequence. Broadway Market.

There's really no plot here to speak of: The gamely put-upon Garofalo runs the camp, with its assortment of misfit young campers and hot teenage counselors; David Hyde Pierce (in a very physical performance quite unlike his "Frasier" character Niles Crane, with his head bobbing around like a chicken) is a neighboring astrophysicist and eventual love interest.

On the last day of camp (said to be 1981, but the costumes look suspiciously mid-'70s) kids get lost; counselors do (or don't) get laid; excerpts from "Godspell" are rehearsed; and the big end-of-season baseball game, against a rival camp, is canceled because it's "kind of trite." And counselors escape into town and go a little crazy — cigarettes! drugs! crime! — but recover in time to return to camp, perky spirits and polo shirts intact.

"Wet Hot American Summer" was co-written by David Wain (who also directed) and Michael Showalter (who also co-stars, as counselor Coop). Both are veterans of the MTV sketch-comedy group The State; both are talented writers who deserve a broader audience — and a better release strategy.

Moira Macdonald can be reached at 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

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