Sorority Boys

"Animal House" meets "Some Like It Hot" in the genial cross-dressing teenpic "Sorority Boys." Hardly as inspired as either of those ancestors, this Touchstone presentation nonetheless is a cut above most youth-skewed sex comedies of late, with bouncy execution and an unsophisticated but positive gender-sensitivity message.

With:
Dave - Barry Watson Adam - Michael Rosenbaum Doofer - Harland Williams Leah - Melissa Sagemiller Jimmy - Tony Denman Spence - Brad Beyer Patty - Kathryn Stockwood Katie - Heather Matarazzo Frederique - Yvonne Scio Susie - Kerri Higuchi

“Animal House” meets “Some Like It Hot” in the genial cross-dressing teenpic “Sorority Boys.” Hardly as inspired as either of those ancestors, this Touchstone presentation nonetheless is a cut above most youth-skewed sex comedies of late, with bouncy execution and an unsophisticated but positive gender-sensitivity message elevating a so-so script. Same basic mix (plus a must-see lead perf, which this ensembler lacks) propelled “Legally Blonde” to sleeper status last year, and “Boys” stands a fair chance of similarly performing beyond current genre expectations.

Sophomore feature for director Wally Wolodarsky (a veteran writing contributor to “The Simpsons” and “The Tracey Ullman Show”) is much broader stuff than his 1995 debut, the unjustly overlooked black comedy “Coldblooded.” Yet while co-scenarists Joe Jarvis and Greg Coolidge never quite come up with the home-run gags or situations pic promises, they keep simple plot running nicely, while Wolodarsky’s pacing and production packaging provide steady light diversion.

Protags Dave (Barry Watson from WB serial “7th Heaven”), Adam (Michael Rosenbaum of same net’s “Smallville”) and Doofer (Harland Williams of “Freddy Got Fingered”) constitute the social committee of a generic university’s most notoriously party-monstrous frat house, KOK. Thus they’re in charge of its cash resources, and when coin goes missing, they’re ousted — even though accusing frat prez Spence (Brad Beyer, doing a decent Will Ferrell impression) is pretty obviously the real culprit.

A scheme to infiltrate the frat’s kegger in drag and seize name-clearing evidence goes sour when the bewigged trio becomes the brunt of a typical KOK sexist prank — they’re netted by “dog-catching” brothers, then hurled to the pavement outside. This humiliation attracts notice of Leah (Melissa Sagemiller), budding-feminist leader of the Delta Omicron Gamma sorority next door. She takes them in and, with nowhere else to go until justice prevails, the three lads — possibly screen’s least convincing screen cross-dressers since Lemmon and Curtis — must settle in with their fellow DOG (ka-boom-cha!) pledges for a crash course in misfit sisterhood.

Resulting nuance-free exploration of everywoman problems in a man-boy’s world soon has Adam (now Adina) fretting over body-fat issues while fighting off the advances of desperately horny KOK frosh Jimmy (Tony Denman). Doofer-Roberta becomes a booster for DOG girls’ low self esteem, with a little help from hempsville. The cutest in or out of drag, Dave (nee Daisy) tries wooing lovely Leah in pants, but to his surprise finds he gets further on the Sapphic track.

Pic flirts with parodying ancient campus-comedy conventions, and could have used a little more absurdist oomph in that department, a la last year’s uneven “Wet Hot American Summer.” Stabs at gross-out humor in the “American Pie” vein involving sperm stains, dildoes, etc., are unmemorable, though frisky enough (alongside some brief nudity) to warrant pic’s R rating.

Likewise, successive climactic set pieces — first one intercutting among three separate cross-dress intrigues, the next a touch-football match against the college’s “bimbo” sorority, lastly a cruise-ferry party melee — aren’t so much outstanding in their comic invention as colorfully and amusingly staged.

Cast is game enough, with closest thing to a standout perf coming from “Welcome to the Dollhouse’s” Heather Matarazzo as a screechy-voiced DOG in need of confidence lessons. Production is nicely turned out visually, thanks to lenser Michael D. O’Shea, Edward T. McAvoy’s production design and Melinda Eshelman’s slightly camp costuming. One-time Devo-tee Mark Mothersbaugh contributes backing score alongside music supervisor Randall Poster’s savvy lineup of soundtracked pop oldies.

Sorority Boys

Production: A Buena Vista release of a Touchstone Pictures presentation of an MBT production. Produced by Larry Brezner, Walter Hamada. Executive producer, Michael Fottrell. Directed by Wally Wolodarsky. Screenplay, Joe Jarvis, Greg Coolidge.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor), Michael D. O'Shea; editor, Richard Halsey; music, Mark Mothersbaugh; music supervisor, Randall Poster; production designer, Edward T. McAvoy; art director, Bruton Jones; set designer, John Leimanis; set decorator, Suzette Sheets; costume designer, Melinda Eshelman; sound, (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), Forrest R. Williams; supervising sound editors, Michael Hilkene, Robert Fitzgerald; assistant director, George Bamber; casting, John Papsidera. Reviewed at UA Galaxy, San Francisco, March 19, 2002. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 93 MIN.

With: Dave - Barry Watson Adam - Michael Rosenbaum Doofer - Harland Williams Leah - Melissa Sagemiller Jimmy - Tony Denman Spence - Brad Beyer Patty - Kathryn Stockwood Katie - Heather Matarazzo Frederique - Yvonne Scio Susie - Kerri Higuchi

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