Starring Corey Feldman, Jack Nance, Sarah Douglas
"I collect rocks."
"Wow, that's very boring of you."
Halfway through watching this, I felt so fatigued I had to lie down on the couch. I took a feverish hour-long nap wherein I dreamt I was shoved into a sweltering, overcrowded prison cell with four other dudes. I asked one guy what he was planning on doing that day.
"I'm going to try to roll over," he said. It was very close quarters. I woke up with a start, and after shaking off the post-nightmare hangover, got back to work. When the film started rolling again, I realized why my subconscious dredged up a prison metaphor. Everyone in Meatballs 4 is such an unpleasant creep, you literally feel like you're trapped in the movie with them. You know, like you do in the first couple Texas Chainsaw Massacres. I'm pretty sure this is not the proper emotional response for a summer camp movie. It doesn't help that the camp is run by Jack Nance (Eraserhead). Not only is his performance seriously queasy - he's a mess of twitches, grimaces, beads of sweat, and grime - but it's always a little disturbing to see him in color and out of the Eraserhead universe, as if he'd somehow escaped, like Freddy Krueger in Nightmare on Elm St 2.
Nothing is right about Meatballs 4. It's not even a Meatballs movie, and even if it were, it would have arrived nearly a decade too late. Nobody had even thought about the Meatballs franchise in years, and both of the previous sequels were bombs. Furthermore, M4's star, Corey Feldman, was riding full-speed on his inexorable downward spiral by the early 1990's. No longer a beloved childhood actor and hobbled by his split from Corey Haim and whatever was up with that Michael Jackson phase he went through, Feldman entered adulthood with an excess of confidence that belied his actual position in Hollywood. In films like this and Rock N' Roll High School Forever (1991), he was horribly miscast in Ferris Buehler-esque roles that were meant to exude roguish charm, but he came off as petulant, desperate, and highly unlikable. Like a douchebag, in other words. In Meatballs 4, he is King of the Douchebags, so noxious that even the other douches in the movie - and there are many - don't even like him. I suppose that's impressive, in some twisted way.
Meatballs 4 actually started life as Happy Campers. That title would have been just as inaccurate, but slightly less misleading. Clearly someone at MGM thought slapping the Meatballs name on it might make it more palatable, somehow. Unfortunately, it just makes you wish you were watching an actual summer camp movie, like the original, or even Summer Camp, or Party Camp, or even Sleepaway Camp. At least those films had actual campers.
Before we get into the actual plot, I'd like to point out the level of comedy we're dealing with. Here's some dialogue from the 'getting off the bus on the first day and seeing some ripe bosoms wrapped in a halter-top scene':
Wes: "I'm getting a good feeling about this place."
Howie: "I'm getting the same feeling."
Victor: "I'm getting a woody!"
Or how about this zinger, uttered later on in the film, right before a game of 'jet ski chicken':
Ricky: "Wait, wait! I think I lost a contact lens!"
Jennifer: "But Ricky, you don't wear contact lenses!"
Ricky: "Oh yeah, right. Let's go!"
It never gets funnier than that. And that very barely registers as comedy in the first place.
And so, it's the last two weeks of summer. Lakeside is not actual a camp at all, it's a water-skiing school. Neil (Nance) has been running it for years with his granddaughter, Kelly (Deborah Tucker, Dr. Giggles). As the film begins, a yellow bus driven by a crazy old woman pulls up and drops off a load of assholes, bikini girls, and one fat kid, Victor (the awesomely named Johnny Cocktails). Mr. Cocktails does his best to act like the timid, put-upon chubbo in Meatballs 4, and although he is surely fat, he really seems to be faking the 'Gosh, did I do that?' actions of the character, particularly when he's being bullied. It's very distracting. He really seems like he ought to be chugging booze and banging that hot Asian chick, not flinching from the cruelties of the two idiots he's bunking with.
Said idiots are Wes (Bojesse Christopher) and Howie (J Trevor Edmond - these two even have jerky names in real life!), and both are exactly the same characters: sneering bullies who part their hair in the middle. The only reason they exist in this film is to torment - without humor - the fat kid. Again, these are horror movie characters shoved into a supposed comedy, and it's painful to watch. Besides bumbling around a bit, Victor never even does anything to incur their pathological wrath, except, perhaps, when he shrugs them off his back during the film's only discernible 'summer camp movie' sequence.
Wes and Howie decide to spy on the girls while they're showering, so they use Victor to to stand on so they can get a good view. Classic teen-sex hijinks for sure, and the shower shots provide a gratifying eyeful. And then a skunk comes trundling around the corner, causing Vic to freak out and drop the studs. They land in some conveniently-placed trash cans, covered in muck, and later Victor accidentally shoves them into the shower, while the girls scream and freak out. And for that, they torment him mercilessly for the rest of the movie. Dicks.
The plot, too, echoes the typical summer camp storyline. Sort of. Lakeside is having financial problems, and they've been forced to cut down their staff. Hoping to boost the school's status on the lake, Neil hires Ricky Wade (Feldman), the recreational director from rival, erm, resort Twin Oaks, to turn Lakeside around. Ricky arrives via parachute jump, plopping into the lake with a boombox strapped to his chest. He sloshes up to shore and is greeted with rapturous applause. Cue the first of many water-skiing montages, interspersed with literally painful gags like this:
A girl blows up a duck-shaped pool-float while Feldman watches her.
"What are you doing?" She asks him, annoyed.
"Wishing I were a duck," he says.
Many tedious minutes later, vampy Monica Shavetts (Sarah Douglas, instantly recognizable as Ursa, evil space-villain from Superman II), the wealthy owner of several summer resorts - including Twin Oaks - arrives at Lakeside to offer Neil half a million dollar for the camp. She wants to build a resort on the property. He, of course, flatly refuses.
"You don't give a damn about this lake," he rattles. "All you're interested in is the money." Etc.
That night, Neil and Ricky throw a party in one of the cabins. A big-titted Asian chick (1992 Playboy playmate Cristy Thom) saunters up to the door.
"Hi," she says to Neil. "My name's Hillary. My friends call me Hilly."
"I bet they do!" Says Neil, ogling her cleavage.
"Are you checking IDs tonight?" She asks.
"Naw," says Neil.
"Good!" Chirps Hillary. "Because all I brought was my IUD!"
Later on inside the party, Wes walks up to Hillary and attempts to hit on her.
She snorts. "You know, you really should stop buying your aftershave at yard sales."
Of course, the only reason they party scene exists is so that Corey Feldman can do one of his Michael Jackson dance routines. When he finishes (with en especially gay flourish), he says, "Elvis has left the building!"
He really says that. I understand that Bob Logan wrote the words for him, but I'm pretty sure that's what he would have said anyway.
As with any summer camp movie, there's a meet/contest with the rival camp/resort/ski school coming up. Neil figures that if they beat Twin Oaks in...competitive water skiing, I suppose...then they'll drive up their camper/student numbers.
And so, there's a nearly endless amount of water-ski footage to endure, punctuated with shots of the goony judges. Lakeside wins. Afterward, there's a 'strip charades' scene.
There's some eye-gouging subplots involving Ricky's relationship with Kelly and Victor's attempts to woo Hillary. Meanwhile, Monica's two stooges are dispatched to Lakeside to make life there miserable, so the campers/students/skiers will bankrupt Neil with refund requests. They throw live rats into the stew and force the campers/vacationers/etc. to strip naked at gunpoint in the woods.
They even add blue tempura paint into the water supply in the shower room, with hee-larious results.
And then they have another meet. I honestly don't know what happens then, because I couldn't take it anymore. I'm rooting for some sort of tragedy, though.
One of the least funny 'comedies' I've ever seen - and look around, man, I'm balls-deep in awful around here - Meatballs 4 is a massive failure on every level. As mentioned, it gave me a fucking nightmare. Chuck Vincent's movies might be terrible, but they never caused me to wake up in a cold sweat.
Jack Nance is dead. Bob Logan made Repossessed two years before this, and toiled away in obscure TV shows ever since. Corey Feldman appeared in Lost Boys: The Tribe, which did nothing to help his cause. He remains one of the most repellent 'celebrities' ever. Johnny Cocktails is a busy character actor in some pretty meaty shows and movies, including Weeds, Pushing Daisies, Get Smart, and the upcoming Funny People. Dunno where Paige French is these days (she played Jennifer in this travesty), but her, we'd like to see more of.
Availability: Meatballs 4 is available on DVD.
- Ken McIntyre