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Puddle Cruiser

Grogan Kevin Heffernan Felix Steve Lemme Matt Paul Soter Freaky Reaky Erik Stolhanske Greg Zachary Chapman Emily Alison Clapp Suzanne Kayren Butler Traci Shannon Jamison Selby

Grogan Kevin Heffernan Felix Steve Lemme Matt Paul Soter Freaky Reaky Erik Stolhanske Greg Zachary Chapman Emily Alison Clapp Suzanne Kayren Butler Traci Shannon Jamison Selby

Puddle Cruiser,” which shared the top award at the Hamptons Film Festival, is a low-budget, indie frat-house comedy that starts off in “Animal House” territory and eventually turns into a romantic, often funny look at the mating rituals of college kids today. The pic is the first feature created by and starring the Broken Lizard Comedy Group, a twentysomething ensemble from New York, and they have done a good job of translating their improv comedy to the bigscreen. The low-tech production values could scare off the young, mainstream auds the film targets, and marketing challenge is made tougher by the fact that this sort of low-brow comedy isn’t the sort of thing that normally appeals to the arthouse crowds that usually check out indie pics.

The comic sparks don’t always fly, but when they do, such as during the side-splitting parodies of classic Hollywood courtroom dramas, it makes for some genuinely fresh humor. Overall, the Broken Lizard funny-men have packed enough inspired jokes and comic sequences into this feature to ensure that it will almost certainly spark interest from U.S. distributors, and, at the very least, draw industry attention to these talented young comics.

Opening sequence has Grogan (Kevin Heffernan) and Matt (Paul Soter) breaking into the college cafeteria for a little illicit, latenight munching. The hungry thieves are caught red-handed by campus security, although the third man in on the food larceny, Felix (Steve Lemme), manages to elude the college cops.

Soon after, at a frat party, Felix spots sexy student Suzanne (Kayren Butler) and makes several clumsy attempts to chat her up. Felix then uses mutual friend Emily (Alison Clapp) to arrange a date with Suzanne and they start going out, although she insists that she also keep seeing her old b.f., tough, rugby-playing macho man, Traci (Jamison Selby).

Zach (helmer Jay Chandrasekhar), Felix’s best friend, provides constant advice whenever he’s not too busy trying to guess what the seventh digit is in the six-digit phone number given to him by the mysterious jogger he’s obsessed with. Plot is complicated by the fact that Suzanne is the student lawyer defending Felix’s burglar buddies Grogan and Matt. She’s pressing them to come clean and ID the third accomplice, who just happens to be her new b.f.

First-time director Chandrasekhar keeps the light comedy on track for the most part, and he and his Broken Lizard colleagues have no trouble orchestrating frequently hilarious comic scenes. Occasionally, the jokes miss the mark and the romantic drama is sometimes a bit pedestrian. But there is no shortage of laugh-including material here and it’s clear these jokers will be cracking wise in other high-profile venues in years to come.

Most of the thesps have a refreshing naturalness, though lead actor Steve Lemme is too restrained and uptight as Felix. Support players Kevin Heffernan and Paul Soter as the bungling cafeteria break-in artists are particularly funny.

The tempo is cranked up a few notches with a hip, alternative-rock soundtrack that includes numbers by Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Sugar, and Pavement, and the music is perfect for the college and that this pic is aiming for. Other tech credits are just ordinary.

Puddle Cruiser

Production: A Broken Lizard production. Produced by Richard Perello. Co-producers, Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Greg Jennings. Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar. Screenplay, Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske.

Crew: Camera (color), Tony Foresta; editor, Chandrasekhar, Heffernan; music, Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Son Volt, Pavement, Sugar; production design, Suzanne Slomin; costumes, Leanne Cummings; sound, David Alvarez. Reviewed at Hamptons Film Festival, Oct. 19, 1996. Running time: 104 MIN.

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