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The Marx Brothers. Monty Python. Broken Lizard?

Broken Lizard, Part II

Coconut Pete is wastin' away in Pinacoladaburg
Coconut Pete is wastin’ away in Pinacoladaburg

Unless you saw Super Troopers, the 2001 comedy about bored Vermont highway patrolmen, you probably haven’t heard of Broken Lizard, a troupe of five comedians from the East coast. Their humor is occasionally as smart as the Marx Brothers, sometimes as absurd as Monty Python, and usually more puerile than either.

Their newest film (their third or fourth, depending on how you count) is Club Dread, a slasher comedy set on an island paradise. Club Dread is not exactly a parody of the slasher flick; it’s more a comedy that embraces the rules of the genre. The killer really is ruthless, and none of the main characters are safe. But the movie always finds a way to work in some humor. For example, the camera takes the point of view of the second victim, and keeps it even after we’ve been separated from our torso.

Murder in Paradise

The island paradise is actually a private island owned by mellow rocker Jimmy Bu — er, Coconut Pete (Bill Paxton). Young horny vacationers pay to spend a week in hedonistic paradise, hanging out with Pete, where the only cop is the island’s own “Fun Police.”

The staff are encouraged to... mix... with the guests when they’re not serving them. The staff include the five members of Broken Lizard: director Jay Chandrasekhar plays Putman, the tennis pro. Kevin Heffernan is Lars, the masseur. Steve Lemme is Juan, the dive instructor. Paul Soter is Dave, the DJ and “pharmacist.” And Eric Stolhanske is Sam, the Fun Police.

After a quick round of introductions, staff members start turning up dead, their names carved gruesomely into their chests. On a chalkboard, the victims’ names have been crossed out with bloody scratches. Disturbing lyrics from one of Pete’s old acid-trip songs are the only clue to the killer. The cruise boat won’t return for another week, and the island’s two speedboats have disappeared, so it’s up to the remaining staff to keep the revelers from panicking, solve the crime, and stay alive.

Apples to Oranges

The pacing is better in Club Dread than it was in Super Troopers, and the comedy is almost as good. The slasher-movie formula drives the plot better, but it provides fewer opportunities for tangential skits.

Nevertheless, there are some inspired moments. 15 seconds after watching island partiers in a hedge maze, I realized they were playing a Pac-Man drinking game. You’ll just have to see it to appreciate it.

There’s also plenty of crude humor. Drunken guests try to pick up one another. Horny youths do it wherever they can. There’s even some shocking, crude punchlines to horror stories told around the campfire.

Broken Lizard’s verbal gags don’t live up to the Marx Brothers and Monty Python. The best they can come up with is a character named Yu, and the odd nickname of the mythical machete-wielding maniac named Phil Coletti.

Almost Recommended

It’s been 25 years since Monty Python worked together and almost 60 years since the Marx Brothers released a movie. Nobody else is doing troupe comedy in the movies, and so I like Broken Lizard, and I’ll go see anything they do.

But I still can’t quite recommend Club Dread. It has enough dry spells that it still feels like a B movie. It’s probably too long by about 10 minutes, and it’s not consistently hilarious.

Club Dread is better with an appreciative audience, and it is better if you’re predisposed to laugh. If you’re at all interested, see it on opening weekend in a big crowd, and leave your skepticism at home.