Dead Man on Campus (1998) — Zack Morris gets dark

“You can’t sing show tunes and be depressed!”

Justin’s rating: I would like to revise my statement.

Justin’s review: Here I am eating crow. A victim of the “Rule of Two,” I first reviewed Dead Man on Campus after only one viewing. But after a while, I found myself popping DMOC into my VCR more and more often, and what had first annoyed me now charmed the cute little darned socks right off my feet. Or something like that.

DMOC chronicles the rise and fall and re-rise of a pair of college freshmen. Josh (Tom Everett Scott) is so eager-beaver to study his butt off that he lacks any capacity to have fun. His pre-med program quickly plows him under, and he has severe issues with adjusting to dorm life. Parties thrown by his roommate Cooper (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) don’t make the tension any easier. Scott is one of those invincible-types who considers actual classes a side-note to college itself. After a while, Cooper shows Josh the light (women and beer being the illumination, apparently), and Josh chills out.

And yes, that’s the same Mark-Paul Gosselaar who brought unnatural freakishness to Saturday morning TV on Saved By The Bell. To this day, I don’t know what possessed me to actually watch that show, since I hated each and every single minute of it. This school had, what, one actual teacher and six students? And Zack was this really lame Ferris-wannabe. Anyway, to answer my own question, I watched probably for the same reason every other teen boy did: Tiffany Amber-Theissen. But it’s good to see Zack dyed his hair and did something with his life.

Back to the movie! Unfortunately, all of this chillaxing results in Josh and Cooper’s grades are slipping so far as to nearly get them kicked out of college altogether. So Cooper comes up with a totally insane plan: get a suicidal roomate to move in with them, and hope that he kills himself to get Josh and Cooper an automatic sympathy 4.0 for the semester.

The movie takes its sweet-poppy time getting to this twist, but I liken it to a rollercoaster. The ride up is fairly interesting, but once it peaks, then it gets fun. The two go on a hunt for the most deranged and lunatic characters on campus, and they end up with a paranoid computer freak (who thinks Bill Gates is out to get him personally), a Prince-type rock singer, and Cliff (Lochlyn Munro).

Cliff is beyond insane, absolutely out of control — even compared to Scott. His idea of fun is to pretend to leap from the top of buildings and outrun cops in his car. Still, he’s absolutely hysterical, and the rental price of the movie is worth it just to see him.

As for the joke factor, the movie has its lulls, but manages to slip quite a few under the radar. Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer gets her hair torched by Cliff in one of the film’s funniest moments. I also loved Cooper and Josh breaking into the psyche department while dressing up like ninjas and running around to the theme of Mission: Impossible. Cooper and Josh represent the polar ends of a typical college student, so there’s a lot to identify with, between wanting to have a fun time and actually having to get good grades. It’s cool to see the two start out so different and yet become one in purpose by the film’s end.

So, okay, I was wrong. It’s by no means a masterpiece, but it’s a heckuva lot of fun. DMOC unabashedly states that college is weird, and that it’s fun to freak people out.

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