Some people give all the credit for Meatballs to Bill Murray, as if it was a documentary about him dicking around at a summer camp. No, this was an ensemble piece constructed by hard working Canadians aiming to ACHIEVE. However, director Ivan Reitman used Meatballs to springboard himself into Hollywood, leaving behind his homeland in the process; a trail of trampled maple leaves left in his wake.
In the meantime, Meatballs struck a chord with audiences (probably a power chord), what with its blend of camp hijinks and Bill Murray antics and hot chicks wearing cut-off jean shorts so cut-off they are more like jean Speedos. Of course, the mighty dollar proclaimeth that cash-ins needeth be made, so out came Meatballs Part 2 and Screwballs and Beach Balls and Screwballs II and Meatballs III (which I know I’ve seen, yet I remember absolutely nothing about). Looking at all these “balls” movies, I’m surprised there was never a movie called “Monkey Balls”, where a summer camp is forced to secretly relocate inside of a zoo and animal hijinks ensue (like the stoner kid waking up on a rhino’s back and not realizing it). Anyways, of all these Meatball rips, perhaps the most obscure is Oddballs, which has yet to receive a DVD release in North America and has only even been seen by a handful of cretins.
The plot resembles any number of 80’s summer movies, with the evil J. Frothingham Skinner (a great name worthy of a villain in a W.C. Fields movie) wanting to turn Camp Bottomout into a parking lot. He enlists the help of his idiot son (who wears a Lacoste polo with an actual mini crocodile on it; so complete is his descent into preppiness), who has to infiltrate the camp in order to get sweet with the owner’s granddaughter Jennifer (the smokin’ hot Konnie Krome). This is somehow supposed to inspire the camp owner, old Mr. Bassett (Foster Brooks doing a solid and somehow more sauced up W.C. Fields impersonation), to sign on the dotted line, and thereby ruin summer for an entire generation of young Canuckleheads. Either way, it doesn’t matter. None of this matters.
Meanwhile, our teenage hero Chris (Wally Wodchis) and his token fat friend with braces and his token black friend who wears a beret and has a French accent (okay, maybe he’s not THAT token) agree to a pact to lose their respective virginities. Chris has the hots for the college aged Jennifer, so that’s where he sets his aim, despite being underaged and all. So, will the kids join together to save the camp? Will these 14-year-old boys make it with hot bikini babes? Will evil preppyism prevail? Will hijinks ensue? You know what folks, I’m gonna go ahead and spoil it for you; hijinks do in fact ensue. I apologize to those that were held in the grip of suspense on that one.
Well sure, there are hijinks, but I don’t think that quite encapsulates the lunacy of Oddballs. There’s zany and then there’s Oddballs. It appears that the filmmakers were going for an Airplane-style spoof of the summer camp movie, but instead it just feels like a generic summer camp movie stuffed to the gills with absurdities, visual puns, and random strangeness, without any notion of how these bits fit into an overall comedic piece. As much as Airplane might seem to be a case of a director throwing gags in there without rhyme or reason, it is anchored by the two leads and also maintains a certain tone and direction as a spoof of disaster movies.
Oddballs has no such comedic anchor, which makes it dysfunctional as a comedic spoof but brilliant as an extended piece of absurdity. There are your standard groan inducing puns and slapstick gags, like someone slipping on a banana peel supplemented with a cartoon sound effect, which would seem more at home in a show aimed at 5-year-olds,. However, there’s also the reoccurring gag where Mr. Bassett keeps accidentally firing a gun into the sky and hitting a flying character, whether Mary Poppins or the Wicked Witch of the West. When some kids arrive in their cabin, there’s a corpse in a bed and a boy Dracula sleeping in a trunk. A mummy knocks on someone’s door in a flashback (?), and even E.T. has a cameo (Meatballs Part 2 revolved around an E.T. character, but Oddballs actually predated it in its use of inexplicably dropping E.T. into a summer camp movie). Did I mention a dinosaur shows up at one point? Oh, and a Bruce Lee impersonator? A second space alien that is apparently not from the same planet as E.T.? To describe the movie is to simply make a list of things that do not seem to belong together.
Hell, the opening of the movie is an animated parody of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which then turns into a live action parody that ends up with fake Indy being run over by a bus hauling kids to camp. This gag is a good encapsulation of the humor of Oddballs. The driver wipes the corpse of Indy off his windshield as if it was a common occurrence. Why is Indiana Jones being treated like a bug? Why does he start off as a cartoon? What does Indiana Jones have to do with spoofing summer camp movies? Even the most absurd humor needs a focus or point, but Oddballs eschews this and, as a result, becomes a strange combination of the extremely conventional and the wholly absurd, as if random insanity has been absorbed by normality and all bets are off. I know that’s a bit abstract, but it’s the best I can do under the circumstances.
Part of the weirdness also stems from an uneasy combination of depravity and children’s humor. Mr. Bassett regular draws his machine gun on the kids (in fairness, if W.C. Fields had a machine gun, he would’ve done the same), and the kids are also awakened in the morning by a guy running into the cabin and firing a machine gun (a different machine gun). Camp counselor Laylo (comedian Mike MacDonald doing his best Bill Murray impression) spends the entire movie trying to teach these teenaged boys how to get laid, even taking them to a club called the “The Meat Rack” in order to help them pick up chicks. Our 14 year-old hero has somebody kick him in the balls so he can have his package inspected by a busty nurse (one of two busty nurses, for the record). There are even jokes about child molesters and stag films. Yet the whole thing has an innocent vibe, as if it was squarely aimed at kids. The end result is a movie aimed at no one in particular (which is where I come in).
In summary, Oddballs is more of an endless source of amusement and invention than guffaws. The movie is filled with little visual gags, so much so that it would probably take 3 or 4 viewings to really catch everything. However, on first viewing, it is a bewildering comedic exercise that nevertheless feels very Canadian. Hmmm…you know what, I think I got it. Imagine some depraved hoser was locked in a room with nothing but a giant bong, a typewriter, and copies of Cracked magazine, forced to write a summer camp sketch for You Can’t Do That on Television. What resulted was so stuffed to the gills with random absurd gags that it had to be expanded out to 90 minutes. Voila…Oddballs. If someone ever bothers to release it on DVD, they can throw that on the back of the case and move some goddamn units. You’re welcome.
P.S. This was originally written for the wonderful folks over at Video Tape Swap Shop. Check it out people. For this version, I have added exclusive GIFs for my fine readers.