Encino Man (1992) — Caveman turns high school upside-down

“If you’re edged ’cause I’m weazin all your grindage, just chill. ‘Cause if I had the whole brady bunch thing happenin’ at my pad, I’d go grind over there, so dont tax my gig so hard-core cruster.”

Justin’s rating: Don’t SHOOOOSH me before you read this full review

Justin’s review: This is going to be a very strange statement coming from a middle-aged geek in 2021, but Encino Man might well be one of my top 10 favorite movies of all time. To explain why, I need to tell you a story. Don’t worry — there’s a review at the end of it.

So back in high school in the early 1990s, I was very much a nerdy loner who didn’t do much after school other than play video games and work at a video store tucked inside of a supermarket. And I loved both of these things. In my mind, a video store job was the best you could hope for as a kid, because you got paid to marinate in a movie environment and even watch some when the crowds thinned out.

We were allowed to play whatever movies we wanted to on the monitors hanging in the corners, as long as those movies were G or PG or a very, very, very soft PG-13. Each one of us at the store had our own roster of flicks that we’d pop into the VCR, and among mine was Encino Man. It was goofy, had a lot of funny lines, an infectious energy, and best of all, was about a loser kid (like me!) who got all accepted by his peers before the end credits. There was some obvious wish fulfillment going on when I would put this on repeat, and I must’ve seen Encino Man a hundred or more times before I left that job for college.

I’m not exaggerating with that number there. This movie and The Mighty Ducks are seared into my subconscious from that time at the video store.

Later, I came to re-appreciate Encino Man for being a goofy time capsule of the early ’90s before grunge and Gen X angst soured the pop culture landscape. This was all about bright colors and bizarre setups and a soundtrack that wasn’t the Cranberries moaning about zombies. It was like the last gasp of the crazy ’80s before everything came crashing down into depression and bad CGI.

Encino Man is a tight 90-minute trip that involves two losers, one caveman, weird lingo, and the most ’90s wardrobe ever. At the start we are introduced to best friends Dave (Sean Astin) and Stoney (Pauly Shore), who are running out the clock on their senior year of high school without ever having done anything significant.

Encino Man was when Pauly Shore’s Weasel routine took off in pop culture for about six minutes, and what a glorious six minutes those were. Trying to explain what the Weasel is will make anyone sound deranged, so suffice to say that it’s all about melding a slacker with near-indecipherable lingo.

(As an aside, I have a theory that all of Astin’s characters are actually the same one immortal Hobbit that started in Middle-earth, grew up as a Goonie, went to high school in Encino, played football at Notre Dame, and then became a medic who fought terrorists in the Rockies.)

Anyway, one day Dave and Stoney discover a frozen caveman in Dave’s backyard, thaw him out, pass him off as an exchange student (from Estonia), and enroll him into high school in the hopes that he might make them cool. Link, as the caveman is dubbed, is played with such earnest barbaric charm by Brendan Fraser in a role that I will love him forever for. He’s incredibly physical in all he does and makes me laugh more often than not with his innocent naivete. I loved that Link obviously had no concept of cliques or social status and simply liked everyone in that school.

Before long, Link’s escapades (which include eating a dissection frog, carjacking a driver’s ed sedan, and dancing like a maniac whenever anyone turns on some tunes) start to shift the status quo around the school. Most notably, it brings Dave closer to his crush Robyn (Megan Ward), who’s a little out of his league and kind of weirded out that Dave carries around a picture of the two of them taking a bath together as kids. Even I know that’s not a slick move. But before Dave and Robyn can find love, they have to overcome Dave’s extreme uptight nature and Matt (Michael DeLuise, who was a headbanger in Wayne’s World), a Jock with a minor in Bully who clearly idolizes Vanilla Ice.

Again, this was the early ’90s. We idolized a lot of dumb things.

Rewatching this again in 2021, I’m delighted to report that so much of Encino Man really holds up. It’s just kind of this wholesome buddy flick that crams in an amusement park montage, a field trip to a museum, a visit to a Latino bar, the prom, tons of school scenes, and (in my favorite scene) a convenience store visit. Sure, Shore is laying the Weasel thing on really thick, and that can be a dealbreaker for some, but I still chuckle when he’s “wheezing the ju-uice” and all that. Astin is more or less a straight man, but you’re rooting for him even still. DeLuise is a hilarious villain with a lot of memorable moments. And Fraser nails this role like a little kid eager to be as nutty as the director will allow him to be.

In short, Encino Man is an ultimate feel-good comfort flick. It’s not deep, it’s not profound, and it makes two too many Terminator “I’ll be back” references, but it’s still an amazing gift for the ages even so.

Didja notice?

  • Big signs on the Food Mart front proclaiming “99 cents”. No actual products listed on the sign as 99 cents, so perhaps the store was up for sale.
  • Link gets squishy juice all over his shirt in the Food Mart, but when he leaves and reenters the store, his shirt is clean
  • Hey mom? I’m going to dig this big hole? In the backyard? To make a swimming pool? No, I don’t think I need to be worried about gas or electrical lines or anything…
  • Learning English from Pauly Shore is not exactly Hooked on Phonics
  • Staples are really strong — strong enough to hold a person to a wall
  • Dave deserves whatever comes to him just for carrying around nude baby pics of him and his crush. Way creepy.
  • There’s a bit of a sequel to Encino Man with Son In Law, as Link appears for a brief bit during a college party while taking a bite out of a plastic frog.

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