Screenwriters Adam Leff and Zak Penn, who garnered some notoriety last year for providing the story for “Last Action Hero,” have concocted a rowdy new comedy, “PCU,” that’s a boisterous if not uproariously funny look at political correctness as it afflicts college campuses today. Though insufficiently stinging, this timely satire could rise above modest B.O. expectations if it connects significantly with the generational group that is its subject.
Leff and Penn have set their yarn at the fictional Port Chester University, no doubt standing in for Wesleyan, their alma mater. It’s a campus divided into so many protest groups that students have no time to attend classes. At the center is a coed gang whose anarchic leader, Droz (Jeremy Piven), encourages any form of offensive and bizarre behavior. The gang resides at the Pit, a vibrantly messy dorm that embraces smoking and drinking and dismisses recycling and sympathy for murdered animals.
Into this chaos arrives Tom (Chris Young), a handsome pre-freshman totally unprepared for life on the treacherous campus, which is torn apart by Rand (“Saturday Night Live’s” David Spade), a spoiled brat who leads the wealthy Republican fraternity; the Womynists, headed by a humorless feminist, and other militant clubs.
Despite diverse causes, however, all factions are united in their hatred of the Pit and their wish to shut it down. And few people on campus, including the board of trustees, can tolerate the stuffy, rigid president (Jessica Walter), who eventually gets her comeuppance during the school’s bicentennial ceremonies.
True to form, “PCU” dispenses an exaggerated view of college culture but also reveals a sensitive ear to its current lingo and ambiance. For instance, the feminists, outraged at a student who dared to bed a white male, protest against “penis parties” and demand to be called women instead of girls. Most of the jokes are rather mild.
“PCU” tries to capture the comic energy and surreal fun that pix like “House Party” and “National Lampoon’s Animal House” had. But despite some memorable vignettes, the film’s climax, a huge party in which George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic perform, is not very satisfying. Unfortunately, the pranks don’t match composer Steve Vai’s resourceful music.
In his feature directorial debut, Hart Bochner shows some visual flair and a sense of tempo. But whenever pic dawdles, he tries to increase its vitality by inserting chases or scenes of characters running around. Production values are first-rate, particularly Reynaldo Villalobos’ lensing.
Most of the ensemble cast is pleasant enough. In the lead, however, Piven lacks the wild charisma of a John Belushi. As the naive youngster, Young wears the same wide-eyed, open-mouthed expression throughout.
Political correctness is such a natural target for satire, it’s surprising that it has taken so long to hit the bigscreen. At the same time, given the issue’s extensive media coverage, it wouldn’t have been too much to expect “PCU” to cut with a sharper and nastier edge.