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Wayne’s (Mike Myers) got himself a good thing. He cruises around in a red-rope Twizzler dispensing Mirthmobile with his best pal Garth (Dana Carvey), rockin’ out to Queen on the radio. He plays street hockey in the middle of the day (game on!), hits the clubs at night in search of babes (schwing!), goes to metal shows (we’re not worthy!) and spend lotsa time over at the local doughnut shop to talk trash and watch Garth dream of hookin’ up with the hot waitress (we’re comin’ to getcha!). It’s good times, totally. “Not.”
The two also host a late night cable access show from Wayne’s parent’s basement. It features such oddities as a guy who sells vacuum cleaner hair cutting instruments, strokability ratings to supermodels, and just about anything they can poke fun of. It’s a hit with the kids but has also caught the eye of a slippery TV exec named Benjamin (Rob Lowe) looking to exploit such a show for cold hard cash. He likes what he sees, especially the boy’s lack of, well, just about anything resembling common sense. Thinking they are easy marks, he seduces the misfits with cash and gobbles them up in a flash, taking away all they care about, including Cassandra (Tia Carrere), the Babe-licious, bass playing, rock wailing girlfriend of Wayne (who makes Garth feel kinda funny, like when he used to climb the rope in gym class). So what’s a guy like Wayne to do? Is he supposed to just turn his back and leave? Is he supposed to be a man? Is he supposed to say he doesn’t mind, because he does mind. He minds big time. And the worst part is he never learned to read! Cue Oscar clip.
Wayne is the leader of the duo, breaking down the fourth wall in a continuous running one-sided conversation with the audience. He’s hopelessly romantic, über positive, and has a vast collection of name tags and hairnets from a long line of failed part time gigs. For him, the future is what’s happening twenty minutes from now, and getting enough money to buy that sweet all white Fender Stratocaster on display at the music store. He’s our tour guide through this zany adventure, and knows if it gets too dramatic, we’ll totally bail.
Garth on the other hand is nebbish, nerdy, unsure, and as always, with Wayne. Shy, clever and inventive, he knows all about satellite link-ups, can surprise behind a drum kit, and good news, is just gettin’ his pubes! First to suspect Benjamin might not be on the up and up, he invites the audience on a tour of the man’s fully-functional babe lair to scope out some clues, but just can’t seem to connect the dots. But that’s okay. He whistles Star Trek like nobody’s business!
Directed by Penelope Spheeris and based on the popular Saturday Night Live skit, the film never really takes itself too serious and is mostly a loosely connected string of funny set pieces and gages that stretch reality and constantly lets us know that they are completely in on the joke. With lots of amusing cameos, including tons of classic rock tunes to keep things moving, there is a lot about this movie that just plain rocks, its jokes still on target even after so many years. And like every movie, it has one great moment.
Our heroes have sold the show and moved the set from Wayne’s parent’s basement to an actual television studio, compete with a production booth, neon signs, and an announcer. No WAY! Way. It’s all a little much for our boys though, and worse, they’ve sold out to the sponsor, a video arcade owner looking to get some exposure for his business. Benjamin’s assistant thinks he doing the show a favor by giving Wayne some note cards and a Sharpie to prepare for the on-air interview with the sponsor. Whoops. In Wayne’s hands, these are dynamite sticks and the fuse is lit.
The film has had little conflict up to this point. Sure, Benjamin is clearly the antagonist, and yes, he’s got eyes on Cassandra, but who doesn’t. The girl has legs up to her neck and rocks the mic like a goddess. Growl! Wayne’s ex is still lingering around too, apparently not entirely convinced being broken up means they can’t date. Psycho hose beast that she is, she buys him a nice gun rack though. That’s thoughtful. But now, after the debacle that is their first sponsored show, things really start to unravel and the film finally has a direction. While we never really feel comfortable with Wayne taking it out on the sponsor so much, as the man is generally a nice guy only looking to plug is arcades, it’s still painfully funny to see just how out of touch he is with the boys on the show. We also have Benjamin firmly cast as the baddie, clearly happy to have Wayne shoot himself in the foot so he can get total control of the show.
The Wayne’s World skits on SNL are classic but there was a lot of doubt as to whether a four or five minute skit could be stretched to a full length feature film. Just how durable is the idea of these two head-banging party boys after all? Turns out, pretty darned durable. With the possible exception of The Blues Brothers, Wayne’s World is arguably the most successful SNL skit-to-film transition ever. It rocketed Mike Myers into the stratosphere, helped redefine Rob Lowe as a comedian and put Queen back on the top of the charts. You’re probably singing the song in your head right now! No matter what the rumors or reality was behind the scenes during the making of the film, things on screen came together in just the right way. Charming, hair-brained, often hilarious, and always on target, Wayne’s World is a great rainy day movie. When everything starts to come undone, the best parts of the movie really take off. It begins on a sound stage when Wayne and Garth realize they’ve made a terrible mistake. Let’s watch:
So what really makes Wayne’s World click so well? Written by Myers and husband and wife team Bonnie and Terry Turner (both SNL staff writers) the script stays true to the characters we’ve already come to love, giving them a larger world in which to explore. The continuity is broken a bit, as on the television show, big acts, such as Aerosmith and Madonna make appearances, but then again, perhaps the movie is a kind of prequel. Either way, seeing Wayne and Garth off the sofa and in the streets of Aurora is surprisingly satisfying. Some SNL cast movies get swallowed up in the world beyond their TV skit sets, but here, Wayne and Garth never lose their impact and in fact blossom. The Gasworks metal bar (with pool table) is just the kind of place we’d expect them to party at. And of course the bouncer (a cameo by Meatloaf) lets them right in. They’re regulars at Stan Mikita’s doughnuts as well, and while that might not be the first place on our list where a gang of head bangers might meet, it sure does work, especially when we see the guy behind the counter, an angry, dead-eyed man with a story of his own to tell, which he almost gets to do, until Wayne makes sure the camera stays with him.
And how about that camera? Often shot with a steady cam, following the narrating Wayne, the use of audience participation is really effective. We are members of the gang in a sense, and our investment in the story, or at least the next bit, is higher as we wonder just what will happen next. We also get words splashed on the screen as well, such as the clever use of subtitles when Wayne tries to speak to Cassandra in Cantonese, which is perhaps the most serious, or at least humanizing moment in the film as Wayne expresses of his feelings of responsibility for his ex-girlfriend’s self-nullifying behavior. That is until the subtitles continue translating as Wayne and Cassandra wait in silence. Funny stuff. But what’s really important about that scene is Wayne and the camera. Notice how only Wayne is in on the joke. Cassandra stares off to her right, but Wayne looks right into our eyes. It’s subtle but reminds us that this is our experience as well as his.
Even more than that, there’s a continuous wink to the viewer that never comes off as hokey, and in fact is used almost in parody, as when the security guard (Chris Farley) provides extraneous details about the travel itinerary of a record producer. Why waste time developing a side story that would legitimately give our boys a realistic way of learning about the record producer? Give that job to the immeasurably funny Chris Farley. Echoing a bit of his own Matt Foley Motivational Speaker, he takes his all too short one minute on screen and turns it into something memorable.
The movie is constantly throwing curveballs, such as the backstage encounter with rock legend Alice Cooper. Still dressed in his leathers and fresh off a show, he, his band, and a bunch groupie girls sit in the lounge partying and drinking and . . . huh? . . . talking early American history and the socialist politics of Milwaukee’s mayoral past. Or when the boys are heading to said concert, but stop along the way to reenact the opening of the 1907s TV sitcom, Laverne & Shirley. We never know what to expect.
This is what really makes Wayne’s World work. We already know the characters from their SNL skits, but the movie adds a fun fantasy layer that, while present in the Madonna sketch dream sequence on SNL, goes deeper in the film, forcing us to consider . . . just what is real and what is not? Did the boys really enact the opening theme show, renting a bike, breaking into an apartment, getting jobs and working at Shotz Brewery? Of course not. So then did they really meet Alice Cooper? Was there really a room full of people training like they’re in a James Bond movie? How about that 5000 dollars each? Or the entire contract with Benjamin? What does the ending telling us in that there really isn’t an ending, it is all adaptable, whatever is in the minds of Wayne and Garth. Want a Scooby-Doo ending? Stay tuned. Need a happy ending. That’s there, too. What exactly is happening?
The answer is in the title.
This is Wayne’s World, and anything goes. We’re just along for the ride. Fantasy or not, what we see is what Wayne sees and no matter the outcome, he has control over it all. And we like it that way. Irreverent, sarcastic and maybe a bit selfish, it’s also touching, sentimental, memorable, and most definitely full of love and respect. He knows we are visiting and he’s careful not to make it too down. Thumbs up are ever present, reminding us not to worry too much. Assurances are made, which always come true, such as buying a guitar or getting the girl. And logic is gleefully tossed aside for some genuine fun. It’s a comic masterpiece on par with anything written by Shakespeare. Not. Okay, not Shakespeare, but it is good and paved the way for Myers to create his next franchise, the Austin Powers series.
Mike Myers has been out of the spotlight for a number of years after the dreadful 2008 misfire The Love Guru and a very brief cameo in Quentin Tarantino‘s Inglorious Basterds. Rumors abound about a fourth Austin Powers, but even if he never works again, his contribution to comedy has been priceless. With this film, Myers took a TV character and put him comfortably on the big screen and we’re still laughing to this day.
Director: Penelope Spheeris
Writers: Mike Myers
Stars: Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Rob Lowe