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Film review: Orange County

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With the likes of Jack Black, Catherine O'Hara, Lily Tomlin, Harold Ramis and John Lithgow in its cast, you'd probably expect "Orange County" to be nothing less than a nonstop laugh riot. You'd be wrong.

Which isn't to say that this "getting-into-college" comedy doesn't have its share of amusing moments. In fact, there are at least a couple of sequences as funny as anything we saw last year.

But the film has to be considered something of a disappointment, especially since it features some of the most talented comic actors in the industry — and they're trying hard to make it funny. And the script is frustrating because, at times, you can see dynamic story possibilities that go unexplored.

"Orange County" refers to the region of Southern California where high school student Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks) lives. For years, the teen has been nothing more than an aimless surfer, but he's recently had a life-changing experience — the death of his best friend — and it's made him reconsider his priorities.

Inspired by that tragedy, as well as the discovery of a really great novel, Shaun now wants to be a writer and to attend Stanford University. And thanks to some serious buckling down, he earns the grades for it. Unfortunately, the school counselor (Tomlin, hilarious in an all-too-brief supporting turn) has sent in the wrong student's transcripts, and as a consequence, Shaun has been turned down by Stanford.

That comes as something of a relief to Shaun's mom (O'Hara) and girlfriend (Schuyler Fisk), since they both want him to stay at home.

But Shaun isn't willing to take the defeat lying down; he enlists his ne'er-do-well brother (Jack Black, as annoying here as he is amusing) to take a road trip up to Stanford, where he's determined to get in at any cost.

Despite the best efforts of director Jake Kasdan, this is something of a step backward from the splash he made with the cheeky 1998 comedy/mystery "Zero Effect," as well as with TV's late, lamented "Freaks & Geeks." Here it takes everything he has just to patch together Mike White's all-over-the-map script into some sort of coherency. But he's undercut by all the lowbrow antics, which tend to overshadow the more humane humor.

As for Hanks, he's a pretty likable everyman — if not exactly in the mold his much-more-famous father, Tom, then perhaps a bit like the young Matthew Broderick.

The similarly pedigreed and equally appealing Fisk (daughter of Sissy Spacek) is a bit underused, however.

"Orange County" is rated PG-13 for occasional use of profanity, crude humor involving bodily functions, simulated drug use (ecstacy and marijuana), slapstick violence, brief sex (done for laughs) and brief partial male nudity. Running time: 95 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com