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National Lampoon's Barely Legal

It's easy to forget while watching National Lampoon's Barely Legal (2003) that only a generation ago the name "National Lampoon" marked a distinguished brand of subversive, cutting-edge, juvenile humor. While the original magazine (for reference, it made Mad magazine look as mild as Highlights) reached the peak of its popularity in the mid-1970s, NL subsequently spawned at least two enduring movie classics — Animal House (1978) and National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) — and served as a talent pool for NBC-TV's upstart "Saturday Night Live." These early movie successes, however, ironically spelled doom for NL's creative relevance as the company's business team transitioned the brand into a mere rubber stamp for a string of low-grade, straight-to-video sex farces. Barely Legal is one such effort, if the word "effort" is appropriate. Erik Von Detten stars as Deacon, a high school everyboy whose romantic aspirations are limited by his lack of finances, and further hampered by his two nerdy buddies, Fred (Tony Denman) and Matt (Daniel Farber). So the three aspiring filmmakers hatch a bewilderingly easy-to-execute plan to solve all of their problems by producing their own porn movie. If Barely Legal displayed the slightest sign of ingenuity, craft, or humor, one might sympathize that, less than a year after its ignominious 2003 premiere, The Girl Next Door obliterated that meager impression with a stylish, funny, and involving realization of the same plotline (wisely using the knockout 1983 classic Risky Business as template). As it is, Barely Legal doesn't even elicit pity. The central friendship is devoid of loyalty or charm, and Deacon's love life is so incoherently presented one must suspect that this film was edited from unfinished footage. Further, the basis of nearly all of the movie's humor — the teenage filmmaking team's staggering ineptitude — works directly against the central premise that their project somehow breaks through the firewall of pre-existing Internet porn to provoke an avalanche of pre-orders and the fury of a local adult-film maven (Horatio Sanz). Poor Amy Smart, who made such a bright impression in 2000's genre hit Road Trip, is wasted as Deacon's inconsistently skanky girlfriend. Sarah-Jane Potts provides some spark as an aspiring (and inspirational) skin star. Also with wasted appearances by Rachel Dratch, Chris Parnell, and Tom Arnold. Sony's DVD release offers a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a couple of extended scenes and a trailer. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr



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