Long-overdue comedy sequels always have an air of desperation about them. You picture an addict on a corner begging, “C’mon, man, I’ll do ‘All right meow’ for 10 bucks!” Or an annoyed musician desperately trying to move on while the concert audience shrieks “Play bear f*cker!”
In the case of Broken Lizard, it seems more like the latter, the demand for repetition coming more from the audience than the performers. After Super Troopers became a cult favorite, the Colgate University sketch comedy group reunited for Club Dread, Beerfest, and The Slammin’ Salmon, to increasingly diminishing returns. Yet even as their new stuff fizzled, the internet wouldn’t let go of Super Troopers. From 2009 up until about a year ago, all one had to do was put “Super Troopers” and “sequel” in a headline, no matter how thin the justification (“Steve Lemme muttered something that sounded distinctly like ‘sequel’ through a mouthful of burrito!”), and it would automatically be your most-trafficked post that month. So clearly did it demonstrate a built-in audience (“built-in audience” being the magic words for any studio exec), Super Troopers 2 was fake news that inevitably became real.
All of which is to say that I didn’t expect much from Super Troopers 2. We tend to view the original (which I watched as much as anyone) through rose-tinted glasses. It has a perfectly executed opening sequence (“You are freakin out, man”) followed by a hit-and-miss patchwork. It was largely panned (30-odd percent on RottenTomatoes). And yet, as Roger Ebert wrote, accurately, “it’s the kind of movie that makes you want to like it.” It proved that you don’t have to be perfect to be memorable.
For about the first half hour of the sequel, I was shocked at how well it was working. For whatever cult status they’ve achieved and for as many times as they’ve tried to recapture the magic, Broken Lizard was never quite mainstream. Nowadays we have a lot of hip comedy, we have a lot of niche comedy, we have a lot of awkward comedy, and we have a lot of comedy that attempts to be smart and insightful. As always, we have a lot of comedy about LA and Brooklyn (blame market forces, there are only so many places a comedian can go to make money). We even have comedy that allegedly attempts to serve the Trump voter. What we don’t have is a lot of proudly dumb, decidedly unhip comedy. Broken Lizard doesn’t fit easily into many boxes. Aging frat dudes who love puns? And how many other people are making comedy about Vermont?
Broken Lizard’s inherent strangeness at first makes Super Troopers 2 feel downright refreshing. They seem to aim for a Beavis and Butt-Head-esque “heh heh” reaction that doesn’t ask too much of the viewer. And dammit, I’ve missed dumb comedy. There’s a distinct difference between well-done dumb comedy and bad comedy that makes you feel dumber, and Broken Lizard seem to have a decent grasp of what that is.
Super Troopers 2 has another inspired opening sequence that I won’t spoil, which at first makes you wonder if they’ve lost their minds, but goes so far over the top that it comes back around to being good again. After that, the film settles into more of what we recognize as Broken Lizard’s shtick, but their shtick is unusual enough it’s still compelling. Their comedy lives on a level of manic quippiness and constant puns that lands it right on the line between grating and funny. What makes it work (when it does work, like for most of the first hour of the movie) is that they seem conscious of it. To know oneself is divine; in comedy it’s mandatory. Super Troopers 2 is broad and hammy, like a lot of comedy, but unlike a lot, it makes little pretense to realism. It’s proud dad humor. It pokes you in the ribs enough times that the obnoxiousness eventually takes on a weird charm.
This is most clearly personified in the character of Rod Farva, played by Kevin Heffernan. Farva is the guy who has a snappy comeback for everything and it always sucks, who ruins every joke by taking it too far, and is so lewd during inappropriate situations that it makes you reflect on your own lewdness. He’s Broken Lizard’s id (and Heffernan probably the most capable actor of the bunch). I thought for sure they’d Homer Simpson him — tax a character’s potential for easy jokes to the point that he becomes far too dumb and weird to be funny — but at least in terms of total laugh volume, sequel Farva surpasses original Farva. A bit involving him swallowing M&Ms whole, as well as a couple others, had me laughing long and hard enough that I felt self-conscious about it.
The film even seems to telegraph its feelings about callbacks. At one point, Farva points to a ram’s head on the wall of their new office and then to himself and says, to Jay Chandrasekhar’s Ramathorn, “Hey, Thorny, Ram — Rod, get it?”
“Ugh, give it a rest,” Thorny says.
It feels like the perfect way to address an audience’s perceived demand that they repeat jokes.
And then… about two-thirds of the way into the movie it becomes exactly the movie you’d expect, repeating the same jokes (they even bring back Jim Gaffigan’s character, “guy the gang says ‘meow’ to”) and working hard to resolve a plot we never really cared about. The format of the sequel is virtually identical to the original — the gang has to solve a crime before a rival police force, with the help of a sexpot who may be a double agent. In this case the rival police are Canadian Mounties (the town is in disputed territory that may return to the US, you see) led by Will Sasso, a wildly underrated comedic actor who maybe shouldn’t be playing French here. The sexpot is played by Emmanuelle Chiriqui, who also leans hard on a French accent for comedy.
That they repeat the story is fine, initially, but Super Troopers 2 only draws attention to it by repeating and referencing the same jokes. You can repeat a setup, not a punchline. Even beyond the repetition, the film generally unravels. There’s a bit about Ramathorn taking sexual enhancement pills meant for women that would’ve been great as a one-off, but becomes a running gag that turns into a lame women-be-shopping bit.
Super Troopers 2 goes out with a shrug, not nearly as strong as it began. But the same is true for the original. Judging it is like scoring a fight, where you don’t know how to weigh the early rounds against the later ones. As a whole, it’s middling. As a movie to watch on cable or at a party where you can enjoy slightly distracted and skip the bad parts… it’s fine.