ROAD TRIP - Blu-ray review

High-definition video and lossless sound make none of the movie's nonsense any better.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

DreamWorks no doubt transferred director's Todd Phillips's 2000 comedy "Road Trip" to Blu-ray because of the enormous popularity of his later comedy "The Hangover."  With so many better films in the DreamWorks vault, there can be no other reason for the action beyond the fact that raunch, especially with a familiar name attached, sells.

Produced by the co-maker of "Animal House," Ivan Reitman, and taking its cue from the road trip in that earlier movie, the infinitely inferior "Road Trip" piles ever more crude jokes and gross-out humor upon insulting stereotypes.  With plenty of sex and nudity thrown in to keep its adolescent male viewers occupied, the result is a yawner of a screen comedy.  Then, to ensure that their target audience will get everything they want, the folks at DreamWorks are marketing the movie on Blu-ray in both its "Rated" and "Unrated" versions on the same disc.  Overlook nothing.

Stop me if the plot of "Road Trip" sounds familiar; you may have channel surfed into 1998's "Overnight Delivery" with Paul Rudd and Reese Witherspoon at one time or another on your local cable network.  The two movies are virtually identical except the older film is less vulgar and a tad funnier.  "Road Trip" involves a college student, Josh (Breckin Meyer), who goes to school in Ithaca, New York, while his longtime girlfriend, Tiffany (Rachel Blanchard), attends school in Austin, Texas.  One night Josh foolishly videotapes an affair he has with another girl, Beth (Amy Smart), and the next day accidentally mails the tape to Tiffany.  The story is about Josh and his roommates' 1800-mile trip across country to retrieve the incriminating cassette before Tiffany watches it.

The film is nothing more than a series of gags strung out along the trip.  You can imagine the writers, Todd Phillips (who also directed) and Scott Armstrong, sitting down and dreaming up the jokes before they ever had a story line to hang them on.  I'm sure films like "American Pie" and "There's Something About Mary" must have encouraged them to be as outrageous as possible, but ideas like making a deposit at a sperm bank to raise money, stealing a bus from a school for the blind, and crashing an all-black fraternity house are neither funny nor particularly original; nor is the repulsive French toast scene unprecedented, being merely a tasteless variation of Radar O'Reilly's "armpit sandwich" from the old "M.A.S.H" TV show.

None of this would matter, of course, if "Road Trip" didn't commit the one cardinal sin of comedy:  it's not very funny.  I counted one character I thought was even slightly amusing--the goofy narrator, Barry (played by Tom Green, who a couple of years later would disgrace himself immeasurably with "Freddy Got Fingered")--and three scenes at which I broke into a mild smile.  For the first half hour I sat almost stupefied with boredom; then, at thirty-four minutes and twenty-nine seconds into the film, Josh's roommate thinks he can jump a collapsed bridge with their car, and I smiled.  At one hour, seven minutes, and fifty-two seconds into the plot, Mitch the boa constrictor attempts to eat Barry's arm, and I smiled again.  Finally, at one hour and ten minutes, a crude joke concerning a horny grandfather on Viagra tickled me.  That was it.

To inject as much nudity into the picture as possible, a wacko campus tour guide, Barry, tells the story while spicing up the narrative with his own fantasies.  "Wait," object several female members of Barry's tour.  "She was standing around topless?  Girls don't just stand around naked."  "Oh, yeah, they do," says Barry.  "This is my story, OK?"  To prove the point, the camera not only focuses on topless (and bottomless) girls in what we all recognize as the "obligatory shower scene," it moves to an extreme close-up of several girls' top halves.  You may recognize some sort of parody here of films like "Porky's," but at least the shower-room scene in "Porky's" was funnier.

Possibly the single most distinguishing difference, though, between "Road Trip" and classic screen gross-out comedies is the cast.  The characters in "Road Trip" are basically interchangeable.  It was as if the filmmakers wanted to make a shocking, cutting-edge comedy but were afraid to exaggerate enough to make it funny.  The characters are too realistic, in fact, and too much alike to be funny.  Where's John Belushi's Bluto Blutarsky when you need him?  Paul Costanzo as the intellectual Rubin is just another good-looking party guy.  Seann William Scott as the swinging E.L. is just another of his Jim Carrey wannabe roles.  D.J. Qualls as the socially inept Kyle is just another reject from "Revenge of the Nerds."  Fred Ward as Kyle's tough-guy father, Earl, is just another of Ward's stock heavies.  And Breckin Meyer as Josh is just Breckin Meyer again.  Only Barry, the psycho narrator, has any unique personality, if you call swallowing mice unique.

High-definition video and lossless sound make none of the movie's nonsense any better.

Fortunately, although the picture quality can't improve upon an inept script and characters, it can ease the burden on our eyes; in other words, the Blu-ray disc displays some good audiovisual qualities.  The image, reproduced via a dual-layer BD50 and MPEG-4/AVC codec, looks bright and colorful in its original 1.85:1 ratio format.  The screen appears quite clean except in areas of outdoor sky, and definition is reasonably good.  Facial tones are a tad too pinkish at times and occasionally too dark, but it's nothing much to complain about.

The lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack does exactly what it's called upon to do, no more, no less.  Mostly, it reproduces its sometimes boomy rock-music background at sufficiently loud volumes and with sufficiently wide frequency and dynamic ranges to satisfy its intended listeners.  There's not an abundance of rear-channel effects, but left-to-right front-channel separation is excellent.

As for bonus items on this Blu-ray disc, we get both the "Rated" and "Unrated" editions from DreamWorks, the "Unrated" version providing a minute or two more material.  In addition, we get about eleven minutes of deleted scenes that are even less funny than what remained in the picture, and which the filmmakers were smart to leave out.  There's a five-minute featurette called "Ever Been on a Road Trip?" that provides a few comments from the actors.  And an Eels music video, "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues," is laid back enough to offer more comfort than the movie itself.

To wrap it up, DreamWorks provide twenty-four scene selections; bookmarks; a teaser trailer in high def; two international trailers, also in high def; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages and subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
Director Todd Phillips had never had any experience doing a major Hollywood comedy before "Road Trip," his only previous claim to fame being the documentary "Frat House."  After doing "Road Trip," Mr. Phillips went on to do "Old School," "Starsky & Hutch," "School for Scoundrels," "The Hangover," "Due Date," "The Hangover, Part II," and, at the time of this writing, work on "The Hangover, Part III."  I believe we can safely assume that, popular or not, he still has no experience in comedy.

Note, too, that the "Road Trip" Blu-ray is available only as a Best Buy exclusive.  So don't bother looking for it anywhere else.


Film Value