Produced by Lorne Michaels, written by Saturday Night Live head writer Colin Jost, and featuring SNL stars new and old (among them Cecily Strong, Fred Armisen, Bobby Moynihan, and Will Forte), this subtlety-free mash-up of American Graffiti, American Pie, and pretty much every other American celebration of—and farewell to—adolescence puts a whole new spin on the phrase “summer camp.” Introduced as a collection of stereotypes, the characters never develop enough to become relatable, and the humor is pretty much all on the level of an ice sculpture of a woman on her back with her legs spread, or a crooked cop who brays about the contraband he’s peddling in a voice so loud it hurts.
If you don’t find that kind of thing funny, you’ll soon tire of the company of Danny (Graham Phillips), the cute, sensitive boy who’s savoring his last summer as a lifeguard at a Staten Island pool before heading off to Harvard, and his fellow lifeguards: Frank (Zack Pearlman), Danny’s best friend and, not to put too fine a point on it, a raging asshole; Mary Ellen (Strong), a good-sport tomboy; Anthony (John DeLuca, resembling a young Tom Cruise), a ripped, dim-bulb Italian American; and Skootch (Bobby Moynihan), a portly stoner. They’re all living for the unofficial end-of-season pool party, the predictable climax the film dutifully builds up to.
Breaking the laws of human nature is an ancient comic convention, but it only works when it leads to a laugh.
The pacing is awkward, with some would-be comic scenes cut off too soon and others lasting too long to be funny, but not even the most brilliant of editors could have salvaged most of these premises. One recurring bit, an ever-escalating battle between groundskeeper Victor (Fred Armisen trying on a Mexican accent) and a bunch of hornets that keep nesting near the pool, is typical of the way this tone-deaf movie amps up the volume, as if trying to pound us into submission. Victor’s quest to free the pool from the pests may be reminiscent of Bill Murray’s epic battle in Caddyshack, but by trading that film’s crafty animatronic gopher for a horde of undifferentiated insects, Staten Island Summer drains the encounters of their emotional stakes and sly humor. Instead of a battle of wits that the human is losing, all we get is another mindless deployment of firepower, this one by a character who seems not so much outsmarted as just plain dumb.
Staten Island Summer keeps raising the question: “Why?” As in: Why would a group of black guys that Frank meets when looking for pot and insults by assuming they’re murderous thugs want to come to his party, let alone pull out their guns to defend him when the mafioso father of one of the attendees and his goons inexplicably draw theirs? Why would Rebecca, the designated “not-hot” half of a pair of equally gorgeous identical twins, to whom the schlubby, unpleasant Frank has been a class-A jerk all summer long, choose to hook up with him? Why would a savvy cougar like Ms. Greeley (Gina Gershon), having been enlisted by the lifeguards to trick their manager into eating drug-laced brownies to get him out of their hair, eat enough brownies herself to get falling-down stoned? Breaking the laws of human nature is an ancient comic convention, but it only works when it leads to a laugh.