Movie Review: ‘Staten Island Summer’

As host of Weekend Update, Colin Jost, perhaps the least loved of the current SNL class, is a pale imitation of his forebears. A bit of Chevy’s smirk combined with some of Norm’s deadpan, all while delivering Meyers’s jokes, Jost is generally as wooden and toothless as Kevin Nealon at his flop-sweatiest, left to play the boring white guy to Michael Che’s somewhat less boring black guy. Jost’s comedy lacks any distinctive point of view, but that’s what tends to happens when your fundamental life experiences are growing up in Staten Island, writing for Harvard Lampoon, and receiving a job offer from Lorne Michaels about the same time you’re handed a college diploma.

This is all sounding a little too bitter; I’m sure Jost is a real nice guy and very funny in person. He’s probably even written a couple funny sketches on SNL. And Staten Island Summer, a new movie written by Jost and inspired by his teenage summers in New York City’s fifth most popular borough, has its laughs. But the derivativeness and total absence of personality that mar Jost’s hosting are only magnified by his script, which rips the central bromance dynamic and much of the plotline of “Superbad” (not to mention the pair of delinquent cops, one of which is played by Jost in what is perhaps a deliberate nod to the debt Jost owes Rogen’s screenplay?), mixes them together with a bunch of sex-comedy tropes — the protagonist’s mad dash to lose his virginity, a sex-mad MILF, a mistaken-identity sex scene borrowed from “Revenge of the Nerds” — throws in Fred Armisen as Carl from “Caddyshack,” waters it all down, and serves up as a bland, though admittedly drinkable, margarita.

Graham Phillips — presumably cast for his eerie resemblance to a young Jost — is Danny, a lifeguard at a Staten Island pool. He’s heading to Harvard at the end of the summer, leaving behind his fat, raunchy best friend, Frank (Zack Pearlman), who also works at the pool, along with a staff of lovable losers like meathead lothario Anthony (John DeLuca), tomboy Mary Ellen (Cecily Strong), and chronic underachiever Skootch (Bobby Moynihan). The staff gets up to shenanigans and plans for an end-of-the-summer blowout while trying to avoid their tightass, Speedo-wearing manager Chuck (Mike O’Brien).

At least the plotting is loose, allowing the cast some room to breathe. Like pretty much every SNL sketch ever, Staten Island Summer places a lot of weight on its cast’s shoulders. Luckily, producer Lorne Michaels has roped in a bunch of current and former SNL cast members — the aforementioned Strong, Moynihan, O’Brien, and Armisen, as well as Kate McKinnon and Will Forte in small roles — who make the movie more entertaining than it has a right to be. Moynihan’s lovable-loser charm is the best thing Staten Island Summer has going for it, and, if nothing else, this movie has given us one indelible image, that of Moynihan smoking a bong made out of a CPR dummy. Staten Island Summer is considerably less fun when it’s focusing on Danny disappointing his parents by not going to Disneyland or Danny’s attempts to bed a hot girl who used to babysit him or or Danny running afoul of said hot girl’s mafia-connected Italian-stereotype father or really anything involving Danny. Perhaps Jost named him Danny as an ode to Danny Noonan, the bland nonentity at the center of “Caddyshack”?

Staten Island Summer isn’t ballsy or distinctive enough to warrant a theatrical release, but it is a passable enough way to spend a couple lazy summer hours. So it makes sense that the movie was picked up by Netflix where it can manage to clear the relatively low bar of being something new to watch that isn’t terrible that you don’t have to pay any additional money to see. Score one for bland competence!

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