The line between a film being a classic and a cult classic will sometimes blur as a film ages, but in respect to Animal House as the classic and arguably one of the best college movies ever created, PCU is a cult classic Animal House of the 90’s, brought about by the political and social climates of the time.
Even more amazing is that PCU is just as relevant in today’s political and social climates as it was when it was released back in 1994. When you think of all the things that have changed for colleges and universities, as well as America on the whole, it’s amazing how the more things change, the more they stay the same.
PCU hit the very vein of “political correctness” at a time when it was just becoming trendy to keep up with the latest linguistics, in order not to offend anyone. Well, from 1994 to now, things have gotten a bit out of hand: what you can and can’t say or call people, places, or things now changes on an almost weekly cycle, but I don’t want to get too far into the “political correctness” of language. I just want to talk about a movie I thoroughly enjoy for its comedic value and it’s homage to the greatest college movie of them all.
PCU was written by Adam Leff and Zak Penn. It was rated PG-13 and stars among others Jeremy Piven, Alex Désert, Jon Favreau, David Spade, Jessica Walter, and the greatest legend of funk George Clinton.
PCU can stand for either the name of the college, Port Chester University, or the concept of the movie, Politically Correct University. Either way it’s all in the eye of the beholder.
Spring is a time for high school juniors and seniors to start visiting colleges and universities in the hopes of finding one that has programs and other things that may appeal to them, with the eventual wish of getting accepted to the college or university of your choice. Chris Young plays Tom Lawrence, one of these such individuals known as a Pre-Frosh, who travels to Port Chester University to visit it for the weekend, which happens to be during PCU’s Bicentennial Celebration.
His host for the weekend is James Andrews, or “Droz” as he is called throughout the movie, played by Jeremy Piven in his first starring role in a feature film. In their first meeting we find out that Droz was pimped to admissions to show Tom around by Mullaney, and we meet the rest of the members of “The Pit” including Gutter, played by Jon Favreau, and Pigman.
In these first few scenes are two important lines. One jumps from the film and into the cultural and popular lexicon and the second is a statement about college that I think all incoming freshman should hear.
The first is Droz talking to Gutter who is getting psyched up for a show that night. “What’s this? You’re wearing the shirt of the band you’re going to see? Don’t be that guy.” This line has since been echoed ever since. After this, Droz goes into his generalization of everything you need to know about college life both in and out of the classroom.
“Want some advice… Well, here’s all you need to know. Classes: nothing before 11. Beer: it’s your best friend, you drink a lot. Women? You’re a freshman, so it’s pretty much out of the question. Will you have a car? Someone on your floor will. Find them and make friends with them on the first day.”
Having doled out his wisdom Droz tries to leave Tom with Pigman, who is watching TV for his thesis. “Pigman is trying to prove the Caine-Hackman theory. No matter what time it is, 24 hours a day, you can find a Michael Caine or Gene Hackman movie playing on TV.” Tom isn’t quite convinced. Droz replies, with a notion I feel more accurate with every passing year. “Yes! That’s the beauty of college these days, Tommy! You can major in Game Boy if you know how to bullshit.”
Tom still isn’t satisfied so Droz gives him the tour.
“Here’s the deal. You gotta get all this 50’s cornball shit out of your head. It’s a whole new ball game on campus these days, and they call it P.C. Politically correct. If you don’t watch yourself, you can get in a butt-load of trouble… These, Tom, are your cause-heads. They find a world-threatening issue and stick with it… for about a week.”
It is at this point that Tom along with Droz and the rest of the members of The Pit create a meat shower on a vegan protest, where in the end Tom makes some enemies, being labelled a “meat tosser” before being chased around campus.
Meanwhile, we find David Spade’s character, Rand McPherson, a member of the underground fraternity Balls & Shaft, cavorting with College President Garcia-Thompson, played by Archer’s very own mother Jessica Walter, to get his house back. It seems that once upon a time, the building now known as The Pit was home to Balls & Shaft. From here, we see Tom, strip over some electrical equipment, unplugging all of the computers in the lab attached to it, destroying about 30 students who were working on their theses. In essence, just a few more people to chase Tom around the campus.
While Tom is running for his life, Droz and his crew are having a barbecue in The Pit when President Garcia-Thompson stops by to deliver the damage bill. “So this is the sewer where you persons breed your anti-community crimes,” she says before delivering the damage bill which includes, “You passed out cigarettes for a smoke-a-thon on Earth Day. You installed speed bumps on the handicapped ramps and, most recently, you dumped 100 pounds of… MEAT on a peaceful vegan protest!”
Droz’s response is simply, “Oh, come on! That was way more than 100 pounds.” The quick wit written into this movie by Leff and Penn really knows no bounds.
In order to pay the damage bill, Droz has an idea:
Droz: Ladies and gentlemen, I think it’s time to revive an ancient tradition we seem to have long forgotten.
Cecilia: They confiscated the altar, Droz.
Droz: No, I’m not talking about human sacrifice, Ceel. I’m talking about something we used to do every Saturday night as a matter of principle. Here’s a hint. Legions of hand-stamped meatheads… in coed naked lacrosse T-shirts… power-chugging watered-down Meisterchau… regurgitating on the glue-matted floors.
Mullaney: Kiln-like temperatures, fights with townies… lines of drunken people waiting for the bathroom.
Katy: Wait a second. You guys are talking about a party.
Droz: Ding-ding-ding. Gutter, tell her what’s she’s won.
And the plan is set to have an all campus rager and save The Pit.
The plan puts the house band of The Pit on to play the party, but they have no name. The two Daves are on flyers, Gutter is on beer detail, and Katy is in charge of getting people, while Droz and Mullaney just go to the game.
At this point, Tom has been saved from the crowd, for now, by Balls & Shaft, where Rand takes over tour guide operations, taking him to the Pride of the Port Chester sports programs, the “Hippy Olympics”: an ultimate frisbee game between the Womynists and Jerry’s Town, the stoners. But Tom’s original group of friends shows up, and for some reason he “snags the bee” as he takes off and the chase begins again.
Meanwhile, Gutter, having taken a bong hit because he may have to miss his show, described as “one little binger to brighten up your day” by the stoners who can’t give him a ride, is well, high. He runs into an elderly woman looking for the campus, but he doesn’t hear, “Show me where the campus is.” He hears, “Can you blow me where the Pampers is?”
Gutter lays down and has a dream about being confirmed for a position in government. This is a beautiful scene, shot with real footage of the Senate and interweaving between Gutter and real politicians. Gutter’s response when questioned about drug use is, in true Clinton White House fashion, “I didn’t exhale.”
Now the movie shifts gears and we learn that the Board of Trustees is not happy with President Garcia-Thompson. This is of note for later in the film, but most important are two things; President Garcia-Thompson plans on changing the Port Chester mascot and Tom, hiding under the stairs, overhears two of the board members talk about ridding themselves of her.
This is where the movie really takes off. Back at The Pit, things are looking bleak: no band, no people, and they’re getting protested. That’s when Droz, gives them a little pep talk;
“Ok, now it’s true, the majority of students today are so cravenly PC, they wouldn’t know a good time if it was sitting on their face, but there’s one thing that will always unite us and them. They’re young. They may not realize it yet. They’ve got the same raging hormones, the same self-destructive desire to get boldly trashed and wildly out of control. Look out that window! That’s not a protest! That is cry for help! They’re begging us… Please have a party! Feed us drinks! Get us laid! Aahhhhhh!”
With no Gutter and no beer, a new plan emerges to raid the Bicentennial reception for booze and beer. This involves stealing a car and a bar, as well as trapping the whole reception in one room with “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band on a 99 repeat loop, because in the days of compact discs, there was no infinite play.
With the booze taken care of, two other things come together for the party at The Pit. Gutter, who couldn’t by the beer because of his nap and Connecticut Blue Laws, runs into George Clinton, who is lost on his way to the his concert, so Gutter asks for a ride back to campus, while Katy runs into Tom while looking for people. Tom says he can get people, because he’s still basically being chased.
Droz and Mullaney give Gutter a hard time about the beer for all of three seconds, before he lets George Clinton and those on his bus in to use the can. It is then that Gutter becomes a legend, and Droz asks Clinton to play the party. With Clinton tuning up on the stage, Tom and Katy show up being chased by a mob, which happens to be the whole campus.
After Droz promises to have Mullaney beat the shit out of Tom, he invites them all in to the party at $5 a head and helps replace the theses with some from his college survival shop. And of course the party is great. Even Pigman gets to enjoy the festivities after “A Bridge Too Far” comes on starring Michael Caine and Gene Hackman, which he plans on using as his closing arguments, meaning he can stop watching TV.
But the party is interrupted by, who else, President Garcia-Thompson, to which George Clinton says, “Funk you very much, too,” before packing up his stuff. Even though they raised the money for the damage bill, the complaint forms that have built up over the semester number enough to warrant their expulsion. But thanks to Tom’s knowledge that the Board isn’t happy with the President, the stage is set for tomorrow’s Bicentennial and two great oral expositions, the first by Droz and the second by Rand.
First off, after letting the new mascot loose is Droz.
“I don’t have a lot of time to say this but I gotta get something off my chest. Last night, my house threw a party… and I thought that we all finally got along. We had a good time. But we got so many protests, we broke so many rules… that we got booted off campus. You know, it used to be the administration’s job to make rules. It used to be us against them. Now it’s us against us. I’ve been here seven years and I gotta tell you guys… what’s going on here is about America. It’s about democracy. It’s about the Bill of Rights, basic cable, call-waiting, free trips to the salad bar. It’s about everything that makes this country great. Our country! We can do something about this. We can finally say… that when some people are having a good time… and drinking some beers, throwing some meat… that we’re not gonna protest. In fact, I promised myself I wouldn’t do this. I’m sorry. If we could just say that, if only to each other… just this one time… that we’re not gonna protest. That we’re not gonna protest?”
With that a protest to not protest ensues and President Garcia-Thompson is fired. Then it’s time for Rand to get his oration on.
Rand: “I scheme for months and it all gets screwed up because you can’t control the students! Never send a woman to do a man’s job!”
Garcia-Thompson: “You cocky, pointy-nosed little Reaganite. If you hadn’t provoked them, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
Rand: “Excuse me? Reality check here. Earth to tall bitch. What is your fault? This is.”
Rand then turns to Droz for the coup de grace:
“Hey, poor boy, go and have your parties with all your new friends. I can see it now, Andrews. You and all the knee-jerk, bleeding heart liberals… sipping tea and playing patty- cake, and those useless… hippie potheads, those commie- pinko leftists… the bunny huggers, the pillow biters…”
Droz interrupts, “Wait. Which ones are the pillow biters?”
“The butt-pirates. And those beastly man-haters. Tell those chicks to shave their pits and call me. Goddamn whiny crybaby minorities. You can keep ’em all.”
And that’s that. The Pit gets to keep their house and Tom is on his way back home, with thoughts of Katy and his future next fall at Port Chester University.
What’s more, this whole movie, all 80 minutes of it, takes place over two days. That’s it. Tom shows up, chaos ensues, and then it’s all cleaned up before the weekend is out. There may be more to the plot than I described, but not much more, and it’s quick, witty, and done. What a great formula, seriously.
Some movies are too complex for their own good, PCU is neither too complex or self aware, it’s just good clean college humor that’s a product of it’s own times. The soundtrack highlighted by George Clinton and Mudhoney is classic 90’s goodness.
It took eight weeks of shooting on an $8 million budget. It’s a blueprint that smaller films should emulate more often and although it wasn’t a box office smash it has become a cult classic.
PCU is a cult classic because it fits the bill: it didn’t do well at the box office, but it found a second life on VHS and DVD. It is a wonderful comedic glimpse into the world of college in a politically correct world and it does it with wit and not too much class. Because let’s face it, there are no classes on the weekend, especially at PCU.