Before you rush out to see"National Lampoon's Animal House," stop by a newsstand to flip through a copy of The National Lampoon. Since both products of the same twisted minds, you might get an idea of what to expect. If you buy the magazine, you'll probably like the movie. If you steal the magazine, you'll probably love the movie.
Loosely speaking, "Animal House" aspires to be a sort of new "American Graffiti," four years older and four rungs lower. It's even set in 1962. The good guys are the brothers of the swamp-like Delta Tau Chi fraternity at the small, Eastern college of Eberhard Faber. (Remember No.2 pencils?) The bad guys are the neo-Nazi brethren of all-American Omega Theta Pi. Throw in a psychotic dean with his stormtrooping EOTC and the conflict become not unlike that in the six-year-old "Harold and Maude": irreverent spontaneity takes on the military-industrial-academic complex.
But notice we said "conflict" and not "plot," which does not really exist. Appropriate to its title, the film rambles about like a mongrel in the back alley, sniffing here and there: here a parody of initiation [WORD ILLEGIBLE] ; there a spoof on student justice; here a golf ball sight gag; and on and on through a few more heres and a there until a climatic [WORD ILLEGIBLE] on the alumni parade. But such loose humor is difficult to sustain, and the jollies sag noticeably between first introductions and final apocalypse.
And speaking of animals how about John Belushi? "Saturday Night Live" groupies no doubt await his first foray into film as Bluto, the quintessential specimen of human degradation. The running joke is his eating habits, and he does do some startling things with a bowl of Jello and a hamburger. Donald Sutherland is the only other "name" among several familiar faces, playing an almost satanic, pot-smoking, student-making prof.
The movie's major problem is one it shares with college humor as a whole - it relies heavily on inside jokes. A food fight or a road trip is a little funnier if you yourself have dodged a few radishes or set off with the guys and a case for Mount Holyoke. Or just how many real people can fully appreciate a toga party? The comedy in "Animal House" is decidedly juvenile, but a juvenile that occasionally approaches truth. For instance, in one scene Bluto calmly smashes the guitar of one of those McKuenesque bards of the '60s, promptly apologizing with a polite, "Sorry."
One other thing, stay away if you have an aversion to the gutter. Seven-letter words are not uncommon, nor are crude jokes and the lack of clothes. Little ones might find it a bore - one kid near the front kept pleading with his mother to uncover his eyes.