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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Wayne's World': Awesome . . . Not!

February 14, 1992|KENNETH TURAN | TIMES FILM CRITIC

What have they done to "Wayne's World"?

Not that the ongoing "Saturday Night Live" skit this new film is based on had the emotional resonance of the complete works of Shakespeare. Or that the big screen version is a horrific blot on the escutcheon of world cinema. It's just that when something that was fine and clever exactly where it was gets awkwardly transplanted just to make a fast buck, well, it's enough to make you spew.

For those who need a crash course, "Wayne's World" is literally a bargain basement knockoff of "The Tonight Show," hosted by a cheery pair of high school headbangers whose heavy metal motto is "Party On!" Broadcast over Aurora, Ill., public access cable from a below-ground rec room by totally affable Wayne (Mike Myers) and his borderline dweeby pal Garth (Dana Carvey), the talk-show parody has featured everyone from metal gods Aerosmith to the coolest guy in high school (played by Bruce Willis), in the process adding words like "Not!" (as in "this is an awesome movie--Not!") to contemporary vocabularies.

When confined to a slot on "Saturday Night Live" (where it debuted in 1989), "Wayne's World" has an undeniable shaggy-dog charm, helped considerably by the comic elan of Myers (a Second City alumnus who created the concept) and Carvey. Yet nothing about these guys, amiably wacky though they may be, cried out for expansion to feature length. Well, almost nothing.

Obviously, the pair's enviable popularity, the fact that the words "Wayne's World" on a marquee would guarantee a tidy sum at the box office whether the film deserved it or not, made questions of suitability irrelevant. Meyers and fellow comedy writers Bonnie Turner and Terry Turner set to work on a screenplay and Penelope Spheeris, whose pair of "Decline of Western Civilization" documentaries were among the best ever done on the rock world, was hired to direct.

The plot everyone came up with has Wayne out of high school but still living at home and still doing the show from his basement. But more is going to change for our guy than his scholastic status. In short order, he falls so madly in love with Cassandra (Tia Carrere), a Chinese-American rock singer, that he hears "Dream Weaver" whenever he sees her. And his show catches the eye of a slick Chicago television executive (Rob Lowe), who improbably sees "Wayne's World" as a way to make some easy money, if he can just get the boys to cooperate.

Given the motives that got this project off the ground in the first place, there is a certain irony in making "Wayne's World's" fight to stay uncorrupted by big bucks one of the main lines of the movie's plot. Otherwise, the film has the same unobjectionable wide-eyed innocence that animated such Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello movies as "Beach Blanket Bingo" and "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini." Who says Hollywood doesn't remember its roots?

And, from time to time, in sequences like Wayne and his pals breaking into a back-seat chorus of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" or Garth doing a passionate doughnut shop pantomime to Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady," "Wayne's World" (citywide, rated PG-13) does catch comedic fire and become genuinely funny.

More often, however, one is conscious of how unimaginatively padded this movie feels, how little the filmmakers have found for Wayne and Garth to do. Even with three different endings, not to mention several musical numbers for Cassandra and even a guest solo for Alice Cooper, there is not nearly enough satisfactory plot and incident to fill the film's bare bones 95 minutes.

The Wayne's World concept, which, egged on by a rabid studio audience, works so beautifully in skit format, ends up feeling dragged out and energy-less at feature length. Though failed transitions to film sometimes seem like wasted opportunities, the point to remember about "Wayne's World" is that, except where dollars are concerned, there was never very much of an opportunity here in the first place.

'Wayne's World'

Mike Myers: Wayne Campbell

Dana Carvey: Garth Algar

Rob Lowe: Benjamin Oliver

Tia Carrere: Cassandra

Brian Doyle-Murphy: Noah Vanderhoff

Lara Flynn Boyle: Stacy

Released by Paramount Pictures. Director Penelope Spheeris. Producer Lorne Michaels. Executive producer Howard W. Koch Jr. Screenplay Mike Meyers and Bonnie Turner and Terry Turner, based on characters created by Mike Meyers. Cinematographer Theo Van de Sande. Editor Malcolm Campbell. Music J. Peter Robinson. Production design Gregg Fonseca. Art director Bruce Miller. Set decorator Jay Hart. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG-13.

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