Stars: Bill Murray, Ivan Reitman, Chris Makepeace, Kate Lynch
Director: Ivan Retiman
Released by Lionsgate
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
Meatballs is a friendly, warmly nostalgic and enjoyable movie. The late seventies look is immediately apparent in the hairstyles and costumes. There are some funny moments to be sure, however where Meatballs really succeeds is in recalling those days and nights spent at a sleep-away summer camp. There’s a checklist of experiences and small details to cherish here. The busses line up for the long ride to the country. Parents say their embarrassingly cloying goodbyes. A ragtag group of CITs (counselors in training) go over the camp rules, which get promptly pitched into the burn barrel. When Murray’s counselor Tripper sits down at the dinner table in the noisy dining room he immediately holds his finger to his nose to signal the start of the infamous last man in clears the table competition. There are chants, people standing on chairs and bad food aplenty.
The film was intended to focus on the hi-jinks of the CITs but it was later decided that the scenes between Murray’s self confident cool counselor and Chris Makepeace’s lonely homesick camper held a special appeal that needed to be expanded. Those intimate scenes between them do feel different and they work very nicely. The one in the diner with Murray intercepting the kid’s getaway ride home on the bus features a great establishing of rapport over French fries. He compliments the kid on his gourmet taste and simply begins to look out for him. Counselor Tripper gets Rudy through the summer and grows him up a little all the while remaining the off the wall screwball that he is.
Murray’s Second City training is obvious, as he seems to float and improvise all over the script. Those years spent on stage learning how to command an audience and take hold of a scene gave him a confidence and self-assurance you can see in any one of his sequences. At one point during their annual competition with the nearby rival camp they are down in the dumps. They are depressed and badly loosing the yearly Olympiad. He becomes a manic and inspired coach who leads the defeated campers and staff in an inspiring chant of, “It just doesn’t matter”. The rhythm of the chant and the build up is almost identical to John Belushi’s infamous Toga party chant in Animal House. The wacky coach bit must have been a regular thing at Chicago’s Second City.
Bill Murray would go on to exert a real control over his comic talent but not before his role as the looney-tunes groundskeeper in Caddyshack. It’s hard to believe he became so containable as an actor. He worked with director Ivan Reitman again in Stripes and the massively successful Ghostbusters. This time out however one gets the feeling that young Murray gave the actual script as much attention as the camp rules that the CITs gleefully lit on fire and feed to the burn barrel. The songs in the film are insipid drivel except for the CIT song sung by Tripper and the counselors at the end. Meatballs succeed admirably in rekindling those summer camp memories. It’s too silly and wacky to be called nostalgic, though. The comedy is on the light side. What really drives the film is the concern and natural camaraderie between Bill Murray and Chris Makepeace. It’s a nice film.
1.78:1 1080p. The movie looks fine. Colors are natural. The forest, lake and campgrounds all look real enough. It was shot on an actual camp. Nothing pops or jumps out, however it’s not that kind of picture. Detail is good if not strong throughout.
DTS 2.0 Surround Sound, Subtitles offered in English and Spanish, Closed-captioned
The 2007 special edition was a huge upgrade in terms of extras compared to the earlier bare bones release. It had a commentary (which is carried over here), and also a 47 minute documentary “Summer Camp: The Making of ‘Meatballs’”(which is not).
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:
Blu-Ray – Good
Movie – Good