Happy Campers (2001) — Who needs grown-ups at summer camp?

“Isn’t fun great?”

Justin’s rating: I SAID, “LIGHTS OUT!”

Justin’s review: Summer camp’s good time. I’ve been to camps as a kid, I’ve been a counselor as an adult. They’re fun little packets of life that cram together new experiences, foot fungus, an appreciation for nature while you’re lost in it, and vastly interesting friendships that develop over a short while. I recently went to a camp during which we had a night where we hid an electronic fart machine (with remote) under one of the camper’s beds. It’s all good, ’cause you’re supposed to go a little nuts at camp — otherwise, why go?

Happy Campers instantly became one of my new favorite movies after I spent the first ten minutes laughing my head off. Although I’ve liked many of the summer camp movies we’ve reviewed on this site (and Meatballs still has a special place deep in my liver), I think that this flick might just overcome them all. It’s short. It’s funny. It’s got a frog that’s blown up with a firecracker. It’s got Justin Long being the nervous geek that he’s got nailed down flat. It’s got PDA, frank talk about you-know-what, and a Russian director that goes mad. How can you lose?

This film follows around the seven teen counselors at Camp Bleeding Dove (don’t ask me what THAT means), who each take turns holding the narration hostage. There’s the overly perky Wendy, who has channeled every bouncing cheerleader into one very scary girl. Donald (Long) is the resident geek who falls down a lot and is hiding a bit of the pervert in his spare time. Talia is the jaded city girl who’s only there to get the guy she has a crush on, as she doesn’t buy into the religion of nature and scavenger hunts. Adam, well, Adam’s your hairy eyebrow jock with a special affinity for wedgies, and that’s about all he is. Wichita is the know-it-all rebel who becomes a leader, because that’s what rebels are at heart: social people. Jasper is the sensitive gay guy who all the campers — girls and guys — seem to have a crush on. Then there’s Pixel, a nymph loon bundled up into a cute freak show. It makes for a fun gang to hang with.

It surprised me to learn that Happy Campers was written and directed by Daniel Waters, who helped write Hudson Hawk and Heathers. Maybe he’s not a certifiable genius of his time, but this directorial debut shows a lot of the same quirky humor and fun spirit that I fell in love with in Hudson Hawk. As he spins a tale through a summer of a smallish camp, Waters flips between storylines and tones with an easy hand. Of course, to be honest, by the end of the film I had about no idea what deeper point he was trying to make about it all, but that’s fine. I just wanted to laugh.

Bleeding Dove might be a camp where even the most nature-adverse of us would happily spend a summer, because there’s always something interesting going on. The camp director, Big Chief Oberon, is a psycho (you might know him as the crazy Russian in Armageddon), but when he gets taken out of the picture due to an unfortunate lightning strike, it’s up to the slacker counselors to take the lead. Anarchy then rules, but everyone seems to have a good time while it happens.

More or less, the plot largely revolves on the staff romances, including how all of the campers cheer them on and spy on them. Two of the counselors spark a romance over shoving frogs down each other’s bathing suits. That’s the kind of film this is. Take it and like it, mister!

There’s a lot of wacky stunts and sexual escapades, as you might expect from this genre. Yet although there’s some fairly explicit sex talk (not exactly offensive, but definitely Not For The Children), the nudity quotient is kept to a minimum, and I never felt like this film purposefully tried to shock me. Instead, it’s the kind of whisper-whisper talk that you’d probably hear from any summer camp — and that includes the banana dance. You’ll know it when you see it.

And, I cannot stress this enough, this film is a happy meal of quotes (happy meal, Happy Campers, get it? I bet you wish you hadn’t!). I didn’t even get to write down a fifth of the great lines from this flick (some serious, most hysterical), but I’m sure I’ll have ample opportunity in future viewings.

Since it’s short, you don’t have to worry about losing a huge chunk of your life if you end up hating Happy Campers. But I really don’t think it’ll come to that — this has the potential for cult classic written all over it. It’s the little fun touches, like Don’t Touch Me Todd (one of the campers who shrieks every time someone lays a finger on him) or the entire camp going outside during the eye of a hurricane. Yes, hurricane. That scene, done with an eerie blue filter, is a really cool touch. Almost artistic, something you wouldn’t expect to see in a low budget comedy flick. So hey, go on my recommendation, and don’t forget to tip your waiter or waitress.

Didja notice?

  • Band-aid girl
  • The little kids hit by duffel bags twice their weight
  • Camp cheering isn’t good for epileptics
  • When Donald bumps into the sleepwalking kid
  • What Pixel does early in the morning
  • Oberon’s Russian theme songs
  • A new meaning for the word “sucked”
  • Many fun uses for condoms

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