Few things are more informative than the obscure early work of now-famous creative types. Key themes emerge and patterns emerge…often so apparent that, even if my Unrated Special Edition tonight’s film weren’t plastered over with little stickers that read “From the Creators of South Park!”; even if I didn’t know what Trey Parker and Matt Stone look like; even if I had never bothered to read their credits on a single South Park episode, it would still be pretty goddamn obvious, and just as enjoyable to boot.
This sophomore effort from Parker, Stone, and (if the various commentary tracks on this disc are any indication) every friend they had in the world at the time, resounds with themes already touched on in the boy’s (and girl’s) first film, Cannibal! The Musical. Here, as there, expect a preference for gross-out humor and overblown Action movie plotting, dramatic music cues, some stuff that refuses to make sense, and a strangely ambivalent relationship with Mormonism. Meant to be a musical for all of five seconds, this saga of a pornographic, Mormon superhero may just be the best superhero film of the late-1990s, the nadir of Superhero Cinima’s Golden Age. It certainly satisfies the criteria laid out in Peter David’s October 2, 1990 But I Digress column in the Comic Buyer’s Guide, when he called a much more serious movie “the perfect super-hero film of all time.”
Thematically miles apart, that film and Orgazmo nevertheless share a sophomoric wackiness, the sign the well-meaning fans working in the medium of their choice. Both utilize all of the elements David identified, elements with long histories in comic books. There’s the “Constant Movement without Regard to Dramatic Pacing…Villains Who Are Evil Because They’re Villains…A Nifty Secret Headquarters…Bad Transitions…Angst…Everything Is Spelled Out…Ludicrous Implausibility…[a] Damsel in Distress…” and “The Hero Must Utter His Name Near or at the End of His Origin.” As David pointed out, a few films have come close, but rare is the picture that brings all of these elements together in one glorious whole.
Parker stars as Joseph Young, recent graduate of BYU’s excellent (so I hear) theater department. As the film opens, we discover Joe had the good (or bad) fortune to draw Los Angeles for his mission work. Things go poorly, as Angelenos to a man (and, in the first real Big Joke of the film, one old woman) prove hostile and dismissive to the good word. Eternally optimistic, Joe and his partner in soul solicitation, Robert White (Stanley G. Sawicki), soldier on, sure that “Heavenly Father” will provide. Finally, the boys knock on the door of Adult Film director Maxxx Orbison (Michael Dean Jacobs), disturbing the set of his latest film. Cranky, abusive, and soulless, Orbison commands his army of “guards” to “cut their balls off.” But Joe proves more than a match for the director’s henchmen, kicking their collective asses through the aid of some Movie Kung Fu.
Amazed, Orbison calls off the guards and offers Joe $10,000 to play the leading role in his latest film: Orgazmo, a pornographic superhero film, something of a low-budget, late-90s Flesh Gordon. Orbison’s current Orgazmo is a foppish dick (whom we see screaming and crying over a broken finger just before Joe arrives), whom Joe, with his theater majoring and kung fu fi-ting skills, easily out paces. When Joe’s morals force him to decline Orbison’s offer, the crafty porno director promises Joe $20,000. “And you don’t even have to fuck.”
Brought up short by that amount of cash, Joe insists, “I’m gonna think about this.” Not that there’s much to think about. Joe’s sweetheart, Lisa (Robyn Lynne Raab) wants a wedding “in the Temple in Salt Lake City,” and after that you’ve got the mortgage payments, hospital bills, childcare costs…on and on and on…A phone call to Lisa helps not at all, as Joe mentions the money before he mentions the film’s subject, receiving an ear-splitting scream of joy. Convincing Lisa he’s playing Biff in a big-ticket production of Death of A Salesmen, Joe rings off and does what any good Christian would’ve done in the first frickin’ place: pray. In response, the Good Lord lets a small earthquake loose upon the Valley, but it’s obvious Joe’s heart is already hardened. Like any good biblical character, Joe’s going to go through a whole lot of shit before he reaches the Promised Land.
Only a friendship struck with his Gentile co-star, Ben Chapleski (Dian Bachar) keeps Joe’s experiences on-set from becoming a complete surrealist nightmare of sleaze and moral degradation. Ben, a graduate of MIT “with PHDs in physics and engendering,” insists he’s only in porn to satisfy his “overactive sex drive.” He also explains the The Plot: “You’re Orgazmo. You fight crime with your Orgazmorator” –a ray gun attached to Joe’s arm, looking for all the world like one of those phallic rockets from classic, 1950s sci-fi films. Any unfortunate on the receiving end of Orgazmo’s we’ll-put-it-in-in-post blasts experiences a spontaneous, debilitating orgasm, allowing Orgazmo and Choda Boy that extra, butt-kicking edge. (And speaking of pasty, male butts, be advised…) “And I’m your sidekick,” Choda Boy, “and I help you out with my specially designed sex toys.”
Shell-shocked by his first day at work (“I’m a bad, bad Mormon”), Joe join’s Ben at a local sushi bar, owned by the hip-hop-affecting Japanese man G-Fresh (Masao Maki). After a few seconds of cross-racial-stereotyping outrageousness (“G-fresh in da mothafucking house”) a trio of tough guys from the dance club next door tromp in and start breaking things. This is their latest salvo in a campaign to get G-Fresh to sell out. “But, homey don’t play that!” After (graciously) upending the karaoke machine, the three toughs leave, swearing to return.
Cut to Ben’s house, which comes complete with a basement lab…and a working version of the Orgazmorator. Thanks to his previous-established super genius credentials, Ben’s manged to “made it work.” He and Joe proceed to have fun terrorizing certain, comical Angelenos with their orgasm-inducing ray gun. Well, Ben does…Parker carefully maintains a wide-eyed look of absolute terror throughout, befitting his character. Painfully naive, Joe completes Maxxx Orbison’s film and, instead of ringing up the nearest lawyer, waits around his apartment for Orbison’s money, as we see (through the miracle of montage) Orgazmo become the big, cross-over hit of the decade and the third-highest grossing movie of all time. (Right between E.T. and Jurassic Park!) The canny Orbison strings Joe along, promising him $40,000 to do Orgasmo 2. Another phone call to Lisa (“We could almost buy a house!”) convinces him to go through with it, as soon as he convinces her that the progatonist of Death of a Salsemen had a twin brother, who’s now out for revenge.
Things get worse. Orgazmo 2 seems to lack the heart of the first picture. The actor playing Orgazmo’s new arch-villain, A-Cup (David Dunn) is a colossal bastard. And, back at the sushi bar, G-Fresh catches a beat down from the dance club “punks from next door.” “We’ve got to help him, Joe,” Ben says. Their quick debate is the most lucid rationalization of superheroing I’ve ever heard. Decked out in pseudo-bondage “disguises,” (complete with mask for Joe and goggles for Ben) Orgazmo and Choda Boy break into the club, steal the waivers G-Fresh was forced to sign, and get away with it. (One of the toughs even shouts “Curses!”)
Joe considers this latest bit of weirdness the last fucking straw…until another one drops onto his back: Lisa, making a special visit from Utah. (“The Lord won’t be angry as long as I sleep on the couch.”) After she observes Joe’s work at a local video store, Lisa leaves him in a tearful huff, morally outraged that he would work on such a picture and then try to claim he did it all for her. Having lost the only thing that really matters to him, Joe attempts to quit Orgazmo 2. But nobody quits on Maxxx Orbison, who insists he will keep Joe in the porn industry…even if he has to kidnap Lisa to do it. It’s up to Joe to don the Orgazmorator again, rescue his love, and take down the corrupt influence of Orbison.
Whatever you might think of the film, it is classic Trey Parker. Off the wall, often contradictory characters, weird set-ups, and a no-holds barred satire of its subject matter. But don’t be fooled; this isn’t nearly as accessible as South Park. By choosing Mormons and Porn for its subjects, Parker fills the film with in-jokes that the general populace might not get (or, at the very least, might pretend not to get). The density of Porn jokes outweighs Mormon jokes by a fair margin, though I watched the movie with my self-described “bad Mormon” friend, and I’m happy to report she laughed in all the right places…and a few of the wrong ones. Obviously a sophomore film, made by well-school amateurs who’s influences are obvious. Watch for the Classics shelf in that video store: freeze framing reveals it to be line with early Troma films. And watch for a cavalcade of late-90s porno-movie greats, headed by Ron Jeremy, Chasey Lain, Juli Ashton, and “special appearance” by Max Hardcore.
On the other hand, the superhero, Kung Fu and action movie jokes hit right on the nose. All of them driven by great characters, a rare thing in this world of comedic films, which prefer to substitute easy blowjob jokes. Sure, everyone is a broad stereotype, but that can work in Fish Out of Water comedy, especially when the types are played as well as they are here. Parker may not be Mel Blank, Mel Brooks, or even Lloyd Kaufman (who has a cameo in the last few seconds of the picture), but try to name another actor who can play a Mormon Porn Star Superhero with a straight face while directing the film he produced and co-wrote with Matt Stone (naturally). Michael Dean Jacobs and David Dunn are suitably villainous, their unrepentant evil a nice contrast to Joe’s unapologetic pseudo-Mormonism. Dian Bachar is probably the best actor in the film, and his Choda Boy bends the boundaries between straight-man and…whatever the hell you call the non-straight man. Parker reserves most of the best lines for himself, of course (“How would Jesus benefit from me putting my tongue in someone’s mouth?”), but the two have great chemistry, selling this film with their obvious friendship, in spite of its outrageous nature and patent offensiveness.
Undoubtedly, that last will put plenty of people off this picture. Fans of South Park or Baseketball will defiantly enjoy it, as will those who know enough about the porn industry to “get” all the little jokes. (“Stunt cock!”) Parker’s soft-spot for Mormonism has, by now, probably made him persona non grata the Great State of Utah’s Public Enemy #1, and I can certainly understand why. Nuance has never been Parker’s strong point. Joe could’ve just as easily belonged to any number of sheltered, Protestant sects and the jokes would still work. Nevertheless, Saint’s among my readership will most likely be offended…a project I, for one, fervently support.
Too often, we (as a nation, whatever our faiths) allow ourselves to be mollycoddled by films lacking both balls and sense. There’s no shortage of balls here (save for Ogazmo’s antagonist in his sequel, Neutered Man). Sense is a bit harder to come by. The Constant Movement Without Regard to Dramatic Pacing dogs the film, making it seem over-long despite its near-perfect, 90-minute length. A judicious edit (eliminating, for one, that montage scene, which adds nothing to the proceedings, save a few more minutes) would’ve streamlined the film, which has just about an hour of story to begin with. Increased joke density could’ve spread things out a bit. So too could a bit more characterization. But these are minor quibbles that keep a good film from greatness. But goodness, as Joe, Ben, Lisa, G-Fresh, and everyone else learns, is its own reward, and I am thankful the makers of Orgazmo realized that. If nothing else, this film has permanently etched the phrase, “One more for Jesus” into my working vocabulary.