Though “Phat Beach” is concocted from a potentially filling stew mix of hip-hop music, comedic coming-of-age travails and the lure of the Southern California beach culture for two suburban teens, the pic is lean cuisine. Cooked up for young fans of the “House Party” comedies and the Wayans brothers’ raucous outings, “Phat’s” bite on the genre is too bland and its gags too warmed-over to satisfy the hunger of its targeted auds. After a brief theatrical banquet, pic should fare OK on vid menus.
Benny King (Jermaine “Huggy” Hopkins) is an overweight and overwrought teen who is facing a dismal summer in Bakersfield, Calif. His stern father (Erick Fleeks) is pushing him to work at a cramped hamburger joint, while dismissing Benny’s heartfelt desire to pursue his literary aspirations. Benny makes a stab at the work ethic, but his mind constantly wanders into fantasy visions of his dream lover (Claudia Kaleem), and his concentration is corrupted by his teen playboy pal Durrel (Brian Hooks).
Durrel convinces Benny that girls and money await him on the beaches of nearby Southern Cal. When Benny’s family leaves on vacation, it’s the boys’ cue to “borrow” Benny’s father’s beloved Mercedes convertible and hit the sands to cash in on Durrel’s scheme to sell cheap sunglasses to the beach denizens.
As soon as the duo hit the beach, problems ensue, most arising from Durrel’s inability to concentrate on anything other than his pursuit of available females. Though some viewers may find the crude language and misogynistic attitudes offensive, Durrel’s low-down ways are counterbalanced by Benny’s constant criticism and belief in treating women with respect. There are plenty of obligatory encounters with bikini-clad girls and a good-natured running feud with white homeboy wannabe Mikey Z (Gregg Vance).
Though rap star Coolio is prominently featured in the promotions for the pic, fans won’t get enough from the charismatic singer’s brief cameo and short musical interlude. Disappointment is also in store for those drawn by the music, which is underutilized. Party scenes are lethargic, despite the best efforts of editors Richard Nord and Jeremy Craig Kasten to pump up the pic’s generally tame direction. Other tech credits are so-so.
First-time helmer Doug Ellin deserves credit for steering the sub-par script without resorting to MTV-style visual gimmicks, which only would have made the situation more derivative than it already is. His greatest strength is in the handling of the perfs of Hopkins, Hooks and Vance. Hopkins’ sweet vulnerability is wasted here and would be better placed in a pic with more substance, while Hooks and Vance are a winning pair of comedic newcomers.