MEATBALLS - AMC Carrollton, Buckingham, Jefferson, K-B Cerberus, K-B Studio, Roth's Tysons Corner, Town Center Twins, Village Mall 3 and White Flint.
"Meatballs" is a cleaned-up version of "National Lampoon's Animal House" for the grade-school set. Sort of an Animal Cracker.
Comparisons to "Animal House," last year's hit movie about fraternity hijinks, are inevitable, since both films feature "Saturday Night Live" alumni with devoted followings - this time it's Bill Murray. Ivan Reitmen, the co-producer of "Animal House," is this film's director.
But in "Meatballs," everything is toned down for the kiddies. Instead of a raunchy fraternity house, we get the relative decorum of a summer camp. And it is decorous. Despie the ads, which feature an assortment of nubile camperettes draped around a dazed-looking Murray, nothing much goes on beyond some pretty moronic practical jokes - most on the scale of stealing some-one's pants and flying them from a flagpole. Not exactly a thigh-slapper.
Murray, though, is wonderful. He doesn't quite duplicate the manic madness of his "Saturday Night" bits, but his performance as Tripper, the camp's head counselor, almost makes the film's sophomoric humor worth sitting through. He's a master of improvisation, flitting from role to role - one minute a swaggering, would-be Lothario, the next a frenzied coach - with Morkian speed. He's also got a human side. When he's not clowning around he takes time to befriend a homesick 12-year-old camper (Christopher Makepeace), thus displaying a streak of responsibility that would curl John Belushi's hair.
Another positive note, admittedly a small one, is that Roxanne (Kate Lynch), the girl of Tripper's dreams, is a paragon of normality - not blonde, and not busting out of her swimsuit. She's a less-is-more, 1980s-style heroine, and at the risk of over-analyzing it, a healthy example for the sub-teenage girls - and boys - who undoubtedly will flock to this movie.