I didn’t really get Super Troopers the first time I saw it. Some friends had raved about it, but when I finally got around to seeing it, I didn’t see the appeal beyond the “big” jokes like Geoffrey Arend tripping on mushrooms and the various Farva (Kevin Heffernan) antics. And yet a few months later I decided to give the film another chance, and oddly enough, it worked even better. Little jokes started to stick (“The lice hate the sugar.”) and the film’s bizarre structure started to gel.
Looking back at the film today, it’s a miracle the film ever got a wide release and eventually found an audience. It’s a movie where the biggest star is Brian Cox, and it has a loose plot that will just pause for entire scenes so that the characters can engage in various shenanigans. Although Broken Lizard has gone on to make more movies, no one has ever tried to emulate their template, and even the group itself has struggled to recapture the magic of their 2001 feature.
Of course, Super Troopers has a formula that on first glance you wouldn’t want to emulate. It has no stars. It’s not high concept. It’s not really in the mold of any other successful movie. And it’s a film that requires repeat viewings to really make you fall in love with it. Compare that to something like Office Christmas Party, which is a painful experience but is filled with stars and has an easy concept, and it’s easy to see why studios greenlight garbage like that but a film like Super Troopers slips through the cracks.
And yet I’m kind of in awe of Broken Lizard’s movie. It’s a film that’s very much playing by its own rules, and it’s unafraid to be weird and offbeat, albeit in a way that’s incredibly liberating. Usually, when you have a comedy where it seems like everyone involved is just trying to make each other laugh it’s a painfully indulgent experience. But with Super Troopers, it creates an odd kind of purity. Yes, there are jokes and they want you to laugh, but it always feels like Broken Lizard is on their own comedic wavelength and they’re confident enough that you’ll eventually catch on.
There are some jokes, especially the pot gags, that feel fairly traditional, and Fox certainly tried to market the movie along those lines. But where Super Troopers really lives are in scenes where characters will play the “Meow” game. It’s a scene that doesn’t advance the plot and isn’t a traditional set-up/pay-off joke. If you take a step back, it’s one of the weirdest scenes in the movie, and in a traditional comedy, it would likely be cut. Instead, it’s one of the more memorable moments in the movie to the point where an NFL player did it on TV.
To include scenes like that, scenes that don’t really work on a first viewing, is a huge gamble for any film. Traditionally, movies need to work the first time you see them, or at least be intriguing enough that you’re willing to give it another go. While there are plenty of comedies that improve upon repeat viewings and become endlessly quotable, I can’t think of one other than Super Troopers that struggles to click on a first viewing and then eventually falls into place. Super Troopers is a movie that shouldn’t work, should be forgotten to history, and never heard from again, and yet it’s one of the funniest comedies of the 21st century.
To be fair, Broken Lizard itself has had trouble recapturing the magic of their 2001 film. Club Dread is a run of the mill horror parody, and while it has some good moments (“I believe you mean ‘Piñacoladaberg.’”), it’s never as memorable as Super Troopers. Beerfest is a fun film, but it feels fairly traditionally when compared to Super Troopers. It’s a parody of a sports film, and while it has good jokes, it never feels like it’s willing to get weird. And the less said about The Slammin’ Salmon, the better.
While Super Troopers 2 is on the horizon, I’m trying not to get my hopes up. It’s nothing against the Broken Lizard team as much as we’ve seen what happens when a comedy sequel comes out over a decade since the original (Zoolander 2 and Bad Santa 2 serving as painful reminders). But more than that, Super Troopers feels like lightning in a bottle. It came out of nowhere, did its own thing, demanded that viewers give it more than one chance, and became a cult classic in the process. It’s hard to match that kind of success, meow.