There’s dumb, there’s dumber, and then there’s “Intramural,” a good-time jerkoff fest that should appeal primarily to the viral video crowd. Which isn’t exactly a slam, per se: there are a number of hearty laughs in this paperweight comedy, which tries in vain to cram a joke per-minute into its runtime. Maybe effort should be rewarded, because this film certainly is trying. If you thought “Hot Rod” was an impossible bar to reach as far as bro-centric comedy, then you won’t find your time wasted, necessarily.
Appealing straight man Jake Lacy is Caleb, a soon-to-be-graduating college senior who has left behind a life of extracurricular enjoyment to prepare himself for the adult world. He’s not only got himself a bride-to-be, but also a potential position with her father’s law firm, and he’s no longer haunted by the fated day in freshman year when teammate Grant was crippled during an intramural football game. Or is he? Partly out of fear for the coming lifestyle and partly out of fear for his feral fiancee (Kate McKinnon), Caleb decides to get the gang back together and compete in the school’s intramural championships.
Of course each has become something of a caricature since they last played. One is a fey magician. One is a horse whisperer. You get the idea: none of these traits compliment each other, they merely lie dormant until called upon for a gag. Grant returns in a wheelchair as their wizened, bitter new coach. In case you don’t get the absurdity, he makes it a point to explain how he’s subverting two sports movie cliches, the tragic athlete that provides a catalyst for others and the grizzled veteran coach. The whole movie is like this, bouncing between actual character-driven comedy and contemptuous spoofery that breaks the fourth wall to remind you how self-aware this all is.
Lacy gets to be poker-faced as this all occurs inside a sea of cartoons, especially considering McKinnon’s Looney Tune scene stealing. Everyone feels like the star of their own five minute internet short, and the constant mugging is wearying. Sensing we would tire of this clowning, each game is framed by the commentary of two stoned onlookers played by Jay Pharoah and DC Pierson. The narrative pauses frequently for them to engage in a film-long mockery of sports commentators, and somehow none of it is fresh or funny at all. The movie’s already feature-length, guys. Learn when to cut a joke or ten when they don’t work.
If there’s one trump card the film has, it comes from a serial killer-intense performance by “SNL” rookie Beck Bennett as the film’s antagonist, a Red Bulled cocktail of “The Karate Kid” villain William Zabka and “Commando” baddie Vernon Wells. On paper, this is a hyped-up Maxim-devouring douchebag, but Bennett’s full-energy performance is flat-out psychopath. During one confrontation, Bennett slowly breaks Caleb down with a series of insults and betrayals, unveiling a long chain of small victories as he orgasmically ping-pongs around the screen, building up enough momentum to almost bounce into the audience.
Of course the film is a boy’s club, but it gets serious just enough for Caleb to develop a flowering romance with a campus employee played by the luminous Nikki Reed. It’s as if the movie snaps to attention when she’s around, as her character is given no real jokes and doesn’t participate in any shenanigans, as if she’s been edited in from a more serious cut. Grounding a romantic element in a movie like this helps you actually care for the characters and their plight. But the movie itself seems trapped between an actual plausible comedy and a full-on spoof, not certain whether to build the laughs from character relationships, or from the absurdity of sports movies, of which this gang has maybe seen five or six. Somehow, “Intramural” runs 97 minutes long, when it feels like you should be watching it streaming on a comedy website for 3:30 or four minutes overall. [D]