“Freshman Orientation” is a comedy about college life, but you’ve seen this campus of cliches before. It’s populated with colorful characters, but their personalities are a flavorless collection of blunt punchlines. Finally, “Freshman” is a gay-themed farce from a first-time director who’s in way over his head trying to challenge sexual stereotypes, embrace the same stereotypes, and make a spunky, crude teen comedy all in the same breath.
Clay Adams (Sam Huntington, “Superman Returns”) is a loudmouth off to his first year of college to nail as many girls as he can. Once arrived, he meets roommate Matt (Mike Erwin) and the two take off on their campus sexual adventure. Amanda (Kaitlin Doubleday, “Accepted”) is a sorority pledge who is forced to seduce a gay man as part of her initiation. Spying Clay, she assumes he’s the type of guy she’s been looking for. Clay instantly falls in love with Amanda and doesn’t bother to correct her, pushing him to explore the gay campus life and live a lie.
Writer/director Ryan Shiraki certainly adds some youthful exuberance to his debut feature film, but it’s all wasted on a tremendously misguided and exhaustively dim screenplay. Pieced together with road kill comedic situations scraped off the formula freeway, “Freshman” hopes to be something of a laugh daredevil: playing to gay audiences with a parade of sexual appetites caricatures, yet almost cruelly directed at straight audiences with a final message that hetero love is the real name of the game here.
Shiraki’s film isn’t mean-spirited in the least, just dreary and teeming with situational comedy that’s either painfully lame or just painful. Shiraki’s enthusiasm seems to cloud his judgment: how else would one explain the sequence where Clay, at a lesbian poetry slam, starts to pass off “Baby, One More Time” as his own brainstorm, which then transforms into a brief musical numberr That scene alone sums up the experience well as one of passe pop culture riffing and brainless invention, demonstrating that the filmmaker might enjoy sniffing the colors, but has little clue how to cinematically paint.
There is some solace to be found in Huntington’s abrasive performance; the poor actor overcompensating so much to keep the film afloat, it’s curious to see how loud and punctuated he becomes with each new scene. Trust me, he gets earsplitting during the film’s most desperate times. Marla Sokoloff is also fun as Clay’s frustrated foe. Playing against type, she drinks up the opportunity to rage a little as a feisty lesbian who’s sickened by Clay’s action. It’s a shame she’s soon tackled by the screenplay’s inanity, breathlessly trying to underline the character’s sexual stance.
Making a cartoon out of personal choices, Shiraki soon wants us to feel for these characters in the final reel, with Matt’s revelations of desire and Clay’s plea for the truth to be revealed. It’s a very silly notion to stage a broad farce only to bend it back into a creation hoping to touch souls. It defeats the purpose of any good comedy, but that’s where “Freshman Orientation” tricked me: it’s not actually any good or much of a comedy.Rating: D