from the Houstin Chronicle (chron.com)
By Steven Rea
Knight Ridder Tribune
MPAA Rating PG-13 for drug content, language and sexuality
Running Time 83 minutes
Released Jan 11, 2002 (Nationwide)
Distributed By Paramount Pictures
If Orange County had turned out badly -- and there's every likelihood that a teen comedy featuring brain-dead surfer dudes, catty cheerleaders and dysfunctional parents who don't understand their kids will end up that way -- then it would be easy to take shots at the movie's rampant nepotism.
Its gawky young star, Colin Hanks, is the eldest son of an actor named Tom. Its leading lady, Schuyler Fisk, is the daughter of Sissy Spacek. And its director, Jake Kasdan, has a father (Lawrence) whose credits include The Big Chill, Body Heat and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
But filial affiliation is old hat in Hollywood, and, as it turns out, this offbeat farce about a So-Cal high schooler who will do anything to get into Stanford University is a pleasantly screwy surprise. Scripted by Mike White, who wrote and starred in the squirmingly uncomfortable stalker comedy Chuck & Buck, the film is about a smart, talented kid -- Hanks' Shaun Brumder -- who dreams of a career as a writer and sees those dreams dashed, he thinks, when the rejection letter arrives from the only school he's applied to.
Kasdan, who helmed the likably goofy detective pic Zero Effect a few years back (with Ben Stiller in a lead role, which explains why the actor makes a cameo here), does some winning end runs around the usual teen-movie clichés. There's a cognizance about his characters -- both the kids and the adults -- that is as sophisticated as it is scathing: The stoner beach guys who just want to blow things up, the scheming sex kitten with the rich grandparents, the middle-aged workaholic dad who has abandoned his wife for a squeaky-voiced babe, and the cast-off ex who has hit the bottle in a big way ... all of them function as character types but also as full-fledged characters, with their foibles and their humanity peeking through.
And then there's Jack Black, that tumbling tub of boisterous bad taste (last seen starring in Shallow Hal), who does a raucous turn as a drugged-out loser who spends his days in a semiconscious state, garbed in only underwear and socks. Black's done this routine before, but he gets to go full blast this time around, and he generates some of the film's biggest laughs.
With John Lithgow and Catherine O'Hara playing Shaun's messed-up, broken-up parental units and the likes of Chevy Chase, Kevin Kline, Garry Marshall, Dana Ivey, Harold Ramis and Jane Adams appearing for a gag or two, Orange County spans a couple of generations of Hollywood comic stars and still manages to deliver a slightly left-of-Hollywood youth pic. The movie is hipper than its L.A. establishment credentials would suggest.