Film Review: Super Troopers

To celebrate New Year’s Eve 2015, I had a small gathering at our place, and we decided to watch a movie. Low on cash and with no Netflix setup in the room that could most comfortably hold everyone, we popped in an old standby: Super Troopers, the breakthrough release from the Broken Lizard comedy troupe. Everyone present had seen it before, so there was plenty of chatter, and it was almost more interesting for me to see what moments provoked reactions from my guests (one of whom had worked as a campus police officer for years) than to pay direct attention to those moments.

But really, Super Troopers has aged remarkably well. The only set of references that really felt dated this time through was the Johnny Chimp-o “Afghanistanimation” content. You can really tell that the script was cooked up pre-9/11 (release date in February 2002) because for most US moviegoers the question of the Great Satan of Western culture and remaining true to the Taliban warlords has not been a laughing matter since then. Very little hinges on use of technology in this movie, so the changes in information technology over the past 14 years don’t really have much impact. A gun is still a gun, a cop is still a cop, and people still like to speed on interstate highways, so the set-up still works.

Let’s explore some features of Super Troopers that ensure Broken Lizard “shows you the funny!”

Casting

Brian Cox shines as always.
Brian Cox shines as always.

Everyone in Super Troopers plays their role to the hilt and role assignment was done extremely well. I’ve watched another Broken Lizard creation (2004’s Club Dread) and it fell flat for me because on the basis of Super Troopers I had neatly typecast the troupe’s members – Jay Chandrasekhar as the mischievous but earnest hero, Erik Stolhanske as the twice-as-earnest virgin, Kevin Heffernan as the clueless boneheaded loser with the short fuse, etc. When they switched up character types in Club Dread, which was completely their prerogative and possibly their artistic duty as a troupe, I felt disappointed and more than a little cheated. I didn’t want something different; I wanted Super Troopers 2. And since I don’t really go in for sequels very often, that’s a testament to the fact that the comedic alchemy of characters in Super Troopers successfully transmutes the psychic lead of interacting with a police officer on the job into comedy gold.

Also, it is simply not possible to evaluate Super Troopers without putting in a plug for Brian Cox, whose work has really impressed me in four other films I have seen from him: L.I.E., 25th Hour, Adaptation and Match Point. All films that I loved, definitely enhanced by the talent he brings to his parts. The dude knows how to act, and if you check out his curriculum vitae, it’s quite obvious he received a lot of work in the years that have passed since Super Troopers came out. I look forward to seeing his professional touch get added to the announced release of an actual Super Troopers 2.

Originality/Vision

According to directors commentary, thats real syrup.
According to director’s commentary, that’s real syrup.

I don’t have much finesse for comedy. I don’t spend a lot of time on trying to be funny. Keep that in mind when I say that, even though I have viewed Super Troopers several times, I am still blown away by the fact that Broken Lizard came up with so much material related to highway patrolling. I mean, I know cops have been the butt of filmed comedy before (Police Academy, anyone?) so it’s not an impossible leap or off-limits subject, but I would never have attempted a project like this one. The gut reaction of most people to police presence is either straight-up fear, or an additional layer of anger that veils that fear. But Captain O’Hagan’s highway patrolmen end up more lovable than anything else. Their “shenanigans” really do come across as “cheeky and fun”. I don’t think that’s easy to script or play out.

So what marks Super Troopers as a film? What does it get across that couldn’t come out in another form of narrative?

Mise en scène

If you were reading Super Troopers the short story, would you picture this stoners expression half as effectively as the image conveys?
If you were reading Super Troopers the short story, would you picture this stoner’s expression half as effectively as the image conveys?

At first blush, the mise-en-scène of Super Troopers is really nothing to write home about. It’s entirely mimetic, with no visual trickery used in any attempt to convey diegetic truths. But I’m glad Super Troopers was created as a movie rather than short story or novella (there’s not enough plot here to sustain something novel length). All of the actors know what they’re doing, and they convey their emotions expressively and naturally. I doubt that my imagination would successfully add the detail of, say, Farva’s furiously furrowed brows and snarling teeth when he wants Thorny to say “Car Ramrod” over the police radio if this were a short story; would the hypothetical author have thought to mention that detail to bring it to my attention? I’m dubious. I guess what I’m saying is that Super Troopers really drives home the artistic principle that a picture is worth a thousand words (Harlan Ellison’s dispute of this principle, as discussed in Angry Candy, being thoroughly noted).

I guess I really only have one serious criticism I want to lodge against Super Troopers: last night was not the first time I wanted to share it at a social gathering, only to receive the complaint of, “I’ve already seen it.” I’m not really sure why I have less of a problem with watching this one again… and again… without getting impatient with it than it would appear my friends do. They see it once, they move on (this is my oblique way of saying you might do the same). I can watch the college stoners, dirty Germans, and Lynda Carter go through these antics a hundred times and still get my laughs in. I’m glad to have this one on my shelf.

Overall Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0.

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