Bram Stoker’s Wheezing the Juice: Underrated & Underseen 1992

For as much as my friends and I quoted Encino Man during the summer of 1992, you’d have thought that it’d been The Godfather. We were all “wheezing the juice,” “riding the vapor in reverse,” and “checking out fresh nugs.” It made Pauly Shore a bankable leading man (the 1990s were a crazy time, reader) and gave Brendan Fraser With Honors and Airheads opportunities. Until just recently I thought we still lived in a world that embraced Encino Man, that saw the film’s endearing heart though its silly, high-concept wrapper. But when researching underappreciated movies (ones that fell below the 3.0 average on, I discovered that Encino Man had been given a deep freeze.

I recognize that the statistics collected by this website only contain recent and logged watches, likely by viewers of generations that didn’t see Encino Man in its natural environment. I thought maybe it’s not my duty to push nostalgia on subsequent generations, that maybe Pauly Shore makes this unwatchable to 21st century eyes. I decided to give it a fresh watch, to test that nostalgia theory. Maybe it really doesn’t hold up. Maybe… it’s me.

Hold these thoughts while I give it a quick rewatch.

I’m back. And Encino Man remains a simple pleasure.

Outcast teen Dave (Sean Astin) wants a taste of high school popularity. One day Dave and his best bud Stoney (Pauly Shore) discover a frozen caveman (Fraser) while digging a pool in his backyard. He stores the ice block in his garage and cranks up the space heater — just to see what happens, I suppose. The caveman melts, Dave names him Link, and the thawed Neanderthal runs amuck in SoCal. Dave’s convinced this Cro-Magnon beefcake will be his one-way ticket to certain coolness. (Rock-solid movie logic!)

At some point during the later 1990s teen comedies became overtly cynical. Clueless certainly kickstarted that process by inspiring imitators that didn’t understand that movie’s DNA and merely regurgitated its casual self-awareness. Likewise, Encino Man, became little more than an out-of-context collection of Pauly Shore catchphrases. Pauly Shore, in turn, wore out his welcome with a string of comedies that exposed the comedian’s limited widespread appeal. (I would like to state for the record — for better or worse — that I still find a few of these comedies worth watching… like 1993’s Son-in-Law) Behind the exaggerated Southern California dialect, Encino Man has something interesting to add to the well-trodden perils-of-seeking-popularity thematic. The film gives us an antagonist, but is he really the film’s villain? (Yes. Matt’s undoubtedly an awful human.) Or is he merely a reflection of Dave’s ill-conceived and ugly need to be popular at the expense of his true self and sincere friendships? I’m not suggesting that this is a deep construct or the product of nuanced cinema — just that this dumb caveman comedy has its heart in the right place, a script filled with clever one-liners, and at least one inarguably welcome star-making performance. With my nostalgia goggles now hanging from my shirt collar, I can’t understand why so many would actively tax this movie’s gig so hard-core.

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