Editor’s Note: This month marks the 15th anniversary of Super Troopers. Feel free to share your memories of this film in the comments section below.
With the dashboard cams rolling on the crowd-funded sequel as this is being written, it’s time to look back on what earned one of the highest-grossing crowd-funding campaigns in the short history of such a thing its legion of donors and fans. Super Troopers became a hit with audiences mostly after its home video release. Though the film has a 35% on Rotten Tomatoes from critics, the audience rating is 90%.
That is the conundrum of the picture. On one hand, this film about a group of goof-off State Troopers that operate out of a small station near the Vermont/Canadian border is funny, at times laugh-out-loud funny, and it’s easy to see why it connected with audiences. The cast is amicable and most of the jokes work. On the other hand, the plot that is forced over the pranks done to pass the time is clichéd and unnecessary and the filmmaking is sloppy and unremarkable, making it easy to see why critics largely disliked it.
The comedy troupe Broken Lizard wrote and starred in the film and they are Jay Chandrasekhar (who also directed and plays Thorny), Kevin Heffernan (who plays the idiotic Farva), Steve Lemme (playing Mac), Paul Soter (Foster), and Eric Stolhanske (playing the rookie Rabbit) and they make a good go of the script for the most part.
The story, superimposed on the sequences of the five troopers messing with each other and with the people they pull over, is that those troopers and their captain O’Hagan (Brian Cox) are facing the likely closure of their station due to budget cuts and their underperforming. On top of that, there is an intense rivalry with the local Spurburry police, led by Chief Grady (Daniel von Bargen, who played George’s boss Kruger on Seinfeld) and Foster gets involved with the local police’s dispatcher Ursula (Marisa Coughlin) in a kind of Romeo and Juliet sort of ‘forbidden love’ story. The boys turn over the investigation of a murder on their territory to the locals because they don’t want to be bothered with it, but soon link it to a large pot bust they make. The whole thing gets larger and larger as the film goes along, but despite the story being there to string together the shenanigans, it’s largely ignored until the end when they have to wrap it up because they introduced it in the first place.
It’s that tired story that brings the film down. Oddly, it’s really unnecessary since the goings on of these troopers without the story sticking its head in are the most entertaining parts of the film. The rivalry is fun and could have been worked in without all the budget crisis and drug smuggling plot points designed to make a film that should have embraced non-cohesiveness cohesive.
It’s also interesting to consider that the film is extremely broad-minded. It tackles, in very humorous fashion, race and racism (Jay Chandrasekhar is of Indian descent but the local cops think he’s Mexican and try to insult him based on that misapprehension, which he just laughs off because of their idiocy) and open sexual identities in Thorny’s open relationship and implied bisexuality coupled with an openly bisexual German couple that are arrested, but lackadaisically imprisoned (to the point of Thorny bringing them home so he and his girlfriend can have sex with them).
The key asset here is the cast, totally at ease with the material and the process. It’s easy to imagine these guys as their characters existing in real life (though no one would be lucky/unlucky enough to be pulled over by them). The added advantage is Brian Cox, typically a heavy dramatic actor (best known for his villainous roles in Manhunter where he played the first screen version of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, X2, The Bourne Identity and Supremacy, and L.I.E. where he played a child molester), cutting lose and loving his opportunity to be funny. He has appeared in comedies since this film, like a stint on Frasier or as Robert McKee in Adaptation, but never with as much abandon as he does here. This film was before he was better known.
In the hands of these talented individuals, the pranks are hilarious. The best ones are the scare tactics used at the very beginning, petrifying a car of stoner college kids and inciting one to eat an entire bag of pot and a bag of mushrooms, putting him into an enormous high (which could have killed him) and when Mac and Foster pull over comedian Jim Gaffigan and go for the record number of times Foster can say ‘meow’ to the driver in plain conversation. That is the gag the film is best known for and the reason is that it is the best part of the film. Other great gags include a syrup drinking contest (where they used real syrup), a bulletproof cup, and the delousing of Farva. All of these bits speak to the great comedy that lays within this film and make it more than worth watching, despite the forced plot and television-style direction.
Super Troopers may not come immediately to mind when listing the great comedies, and that’s okay because it’s not one. What it is, though, is a supremely entertaining comedy with some bugs that can be overlooked when you think about the overall effect of the film. You don’t remember the lame plot because it’s forgettable. You remember Farva getting hosed down and doused with powdered sugar (“It’s delicious.”), the high-speed chase that isn’t what it initially appears to be, mustache rides, a liter o’ cola, syrup chugging, and bulletproof cups. Meow, isn’t that enough?