Jake Kasdan (son of Lawrence) directs Colin Hanks (son of Tom) in Orange County, a Wonder Boys for the teeny-bopper sect. Nerdy Shawn (Hanks) trades surfing for creative writing via a sand-covered book written by a Stanford professor (Kevin Kline). He’s rejected from the school, no thanks to a loopy guidance counselor (an underused Lily Tomlin). Shawn fails to fix the misunderstanding with a simple phone call, instead opting for a high-jinks road trip to his prospective college community. The boy is more bummed by the screw-up than his dysfunctional home life: Mom (Catherine O’Hara) is a drunk, step-Dad is wheelchair-bound and his parolee brother (Jack Black) can’t quite get off the drugs. His real father (John Lithgow) is distant though it isn’t long before the man discards his young second wife in favor of old-school familial normalcy. Brother, girlfriend Ashley (Schuyler Fisk, daughter of Sissy Spacek), and ecstasy tablets in tow, Shawn clears up his academic mix-ups only to realize that there’s no place like home. As written by Mike White, Orange County is less like Chuck and Buck and more like “Freaks and Geeks.” Wildly inconsistent though frequently funny, the film is carried on the weight of a series of subversive scenarios and the uniformly excellent cast. Kasdan may not know how to lessen the impact of the film’s ready-made clichés (remember: if you open a college letter with excessive glee on your face, prepare to be rejected) but White’s jokes are genuinely cutting especially when boredom and drugs give way to slippery sexuality. Hanks is certainly likeable—his body language recalls his father’s more awkward years (Money Pit, Bachelor Party). The adults, though, are the stars here: O’Hara is devilishly dramatic (“Relax, it’s just urine!”), but Black and Jane Adams (as a Stanford admissions desk girl) steal the show with their straight-faced approach to putting out a fire.
Greg Gardiner's camerawork is usually better then the films he's had to shoot. His work for Jake Kasdan's Orange County is very much on the dry side though it's certainly not bad by any means. Considering just how funny Orange County can be, it's sad that it doesn't boast a more exciting color palette. Regardless, Orange County looks great on the small screen thanks to a spotless transfer from the folks at Paramount. The colors seem to have been all brought up just enough so that the film's hazy look is still intact. The disc's surprisingly powerful Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround is superior to the optional 2.0 Surround track-just switch between the two during the film's monstrous wave sequence and hear for yourself.
First the bad news: Jake Kasdan has the kind of voice that's difficult to listen to do and funnyman Mike White doesn't really like to talk. Now the good news: Orange County only runs for a little over 80 minutes and Kasdan is completely engaging throughout his entire commentary track. The director may be too young and have too little experience to be announcing that "this was my first digital sequence" and "I always wanted to do a late title sequence" but it's difficult to dog his passion. He loves his actors and points out the needless amounts of ink that the press spent on noting the heritage of the film's cast and crew. Kasdan and White tried to make Orange County as subversive as possible despite resistance from the studio heads and this conflict is equally the film's strongest and weakest attribute. The commentary track seems to work best as a guidebook to the film's many inside jokes (the rationale for the shirtless volleyball players, the pootie pacifier). Also included here are no less than 15 interstitials (?) that were used during the film's publicity campaign, a theatrical trailer and four more or less disposable deleted scenes.
Though instantly gratifying, this DVD (much like the actual movie) is soon forgotten. Good for a Saturday night with friends though not one for the permanent collection.