Up The Creek
Released By: Kino Lorber
February 2, 2016
Tim Matheson, Stephen Furst, Dan Monahan, Jennifer Runyon, Sandy Helberg
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Never let it be said that lack of original ideas is a new trait in Hollywood. For as Animal House begat King Frat, and Stripes begat Police Academy, and Spring Break begat Fraternity Vacation, it's safe to say that a healthy amount of "classics" have begged, borrowed, or stolen from other scripts. And while I may not be able to name another comedy that features a whitewater rafting race as its centrepiece, you can be damned good and sure that 1984's Up The Creek borrows heavily from a number of comedic predecessors.
The setting is a common one; Lepetomane University, also known as Lobotomy U, widely regarded as the worst institution of learning in the country. Fed up with four career students anchoring the grade point average to cro-magnon levels, Dean Burch (John Hillerman) drags the ne'er-do-wells from their hungover slumbers to issue a challenge; to win the prestigious intercollegiate rafting race and restore some glory to Lepetomane. Take first place, and the boys will be awarded instant degrees in whatever subjects they choose; lose the race, and the Dean will call in their fraudulent student loans and end their bookmaking schemes.
And thusly, Bob McGraw (Animal House's Tim Matheson), the self-appointed team leader who provides his own ad-lib narration, Gonzer (Animal House's Stephen Furst), the over-sized, eating/drinking human machine, Max (Dan Monahan...Pee-Wee from Porky's) criminally underused as nothing but filler, and Irwin (Sandy Helberg, who you'll remember from nothing at all), the alcoholic nerd load up their disgusting van and head to the site of the race to compete against Bible Colleges, Hebrew Schools, Finishing Schools For Good-Looking Ladies, as well as unstable Military Academy combatants and the suave, wealthy Ivy University team lead by a pompous ass named Rex.
The odds are quickly stacked against the underdogs when Ivy University gains favour with race officials courtesy of a cash payoff, which gives them access to explosive darts, miniature torpedoes, switchblade paddles and other tools of cheating; and McGraw doesn't help matters much when he swoops in to snag the Rex's gorgeous girlfriend Heather (Jennifer Runyon from Charles In Charge) after she catches her man in the midst of the Winnebago Grind with a topless young honey. In another brilliant move, Team Lepetomane inadvertently gets the Washington Military Institute disqualified when they accidentally uncover a sabotage attempt, guaranteeing the wrath of Captain Braverman and his crazed commandos.
Will McGraw and his party-hearty companions emerge triumphant at the finish line to claim their degrees, or will they be subjected to hard time for bank fraud? Even more importantly, will they have enough time in 96 minutes to drink beer, make fart jokes, see naked college boobies and get some action? Or will they end up...the....errrrr......creek?
Up The Creek, with all of the trademarks of its comedic ancestors, not to mention a cast made up of two Animal House alumni, a Porky's legend, and the husband of the casting director, should be a winner through and through. The elements are all there, and even without the cast and a much lower budget, King Frat was able to amuse and entertain to no end. With a serious soft spot for wacky 80's high school/college/whatever comedies, I was surprised to find that it most certainly is not a winner; not even close. Problem number 1) the cast. While Tim Matheson is perfect in his role in Animal House, and forever etched in my mind as Sweet in Magnum Force, he just doesn't come across as a very likable guy. Ever. Especially when you put him into a role where he's supposed to have a brotherly relationship with his co-stars, and just acts...wooden. Furst as Gonzer and Helberg as Irwin are just flat-out annoying as hell, Gonzer basically a less-refined, unintelligent Bluto, and Irwin...just bad. Dan Monahan is likable enough, and really the only one of the four with any sense of comedic timing or personality, but he's given nothing to do in this film, which is just sad. There are some surprises from the supporting cast; Jennifer Runyon does a whole lot with very little; but the rest of the group are unimpressive, barring Captain Braverman (Blaine Novak) who goes so far into stupidland that you'll want to backhand the shit out of him.
The writing in Up The Creek is no great shakes, either, with bad jokes a-plenty and recycled comedy that had grown stale by this point, though to be fair, the writing team was largely inexperienced at the time; including Jim Kouf, who had written The Boogens, and would later add the masterpiece The Hidden to his resume. As such, the writing depends largely on stupid noises, sight gags, and farting dogs, all funny in their own way, but not when they're the glue holding together the entire plot. Interestingly enough, Kouf would also point a finger at director Robert Butler for being unsuited for directing comedy, which is another great flaw in the film; direction and timing. On the surface, Up the Creek looks as it should, but just isn't really very funny at all.
Kino brings Up The Creek to blu-ray in a 1.85:1 AVC-encoded transfer that's basically what we've come to expect from KL...solid picture for the most part with much better detail than we've seen in DVD and VHS (obviously) releases, but with a few instances of dirt, debris, and damage still present. Up The Creek maintains this standard, which is to say that it's a perfectly acceptable way to watch the film, with not enough issues to detract from viewing.
Usually, this is the part where I say, "The audio on this disc is provided by a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that is on par with the video transfer and perfectly acceptable", but this is area that Up The Creek suffers. Audio is provided by an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, but it's got more than a few issues with it. For the majority of the running time, the audio is distorted, not so much to make it incoherent, but definitely something that's very noticeable. As a result, the dialogue in the film comes off as harsh and tinny, and more grating in spots than others. I'd like to say that it's not too distracting, but it does pull you out of the film more than a few times.
English subtitles are provided.
First up in the supplements is Without A Paddle - The Making of Up The Creek (11:37), essentially a look back at the film with the crew and some of the cast. You won't see Tim Matheson here, but Helberg and Furst discuss their experiences making the film in as much detail as you can in under 12 minutes.
A video for Cheap Trick's title song, "Up The Creek" and a Trailer for the film are also included.
The Final Word:
There are a whole lot of stupid, funny comedies from the 70's and 80's...Up The Creek is not one of them. Though the video transfer on Kino's release is decent enough, the wonky audio track shouldn't be something that occurs in this era of high definition.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!
up the creek
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