NEW YORK–“Encino Man” kicks off the silly summer season with mindless would-be comedy aimed at the younger set. Low-budget quickie (lensed five months ago) is insulting even within its own no-effort parameters.
Shawn Schepps’ incompetent screenplay dawdles over the introductions, with well over a reel elapsing before Cro-Magnon man Brendan Fraser unfreezes from a block of ice uncovered by Encino teen Sean Astin while digging a backyard swimming pool.
Fraser covered in mud looks a lot like Christophe Lambert in the Tarzan opus “Greystoke.” Filmmakers stoop to ripping off earlier incarnations of the Burroughs epic in a lengthy scene of Astin naming the boy Link, played in “Me Tarzan, You Jane” fashion.
Film proceeds to duplicate intact its trailer’s sequence of Astin and buddy Pauly Shore bathing and styling the caveman while Right Said Fred’s catchy song “I’m Too Sexy” plays on the soundtrack.
Pic’s sci-fi pretense is immediately abandoned in favor of lame regurgitation of mid-’80s teen comedies like Orion’s “The Heavenly Kid.” Astin and Shore contrive to pass off Fraser as a transfer student to Encino High and hope that his coolness will bring them popularity as his pals.
Of course Fraser is an instant hit with the other students. Only tension is that he wins the hearts of femmes, including Astin’s dream girl Megan Ward. Schepps’ script sidesteps the buddies’ ultimate confrontation in favor of a handy earth tremor spitting out a cavegirl (who looks like a Valley Girl) for Fraser as a finale.
Debuting feature director Les Mayfield exhibits low aptitude for comedy, resorting to pratfalls and food sloppiness for laughs. Film is nominally a vehicle for MTV comic Pauly Shore, who flunks out on screen with his tediously unfunny patter and smaller-than-life personality.
Top-billed Astin has little to do except tag along with Fraser, who’s winsome as the highly physical, imitative caveman. Pretty heroine Ward is boring, consistently upstaged by her feistier and sexier friend Robin Tunney. Mariette Hartley and Richard Masur look bewildered as Astin’s parents.
Michael DeLuise, who recently directed the Tanya Roberts sex comedy “Almost Pregnant,” overplays embarrassingly as the school bully who gets his comeuppance at the prom in an anticlimax.
Best technical credit is Marie France’s costumes, which colorfully capture the Valley lifestyle.