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‘Encino Man’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 22, 1992


Les Mayfield
Sean Astin;
Brendan Fraser;
Pauly Shore;
Megan Ward;
Michael DeLuise;
Mariette Hartley;
Richard Masur
Parental guidance suggested

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A lot is riding on Hollywood Pictures' "Encino Man." A youth comedy about a caveman who appears in 20th-century California, it scrambles hopefully after the success of the "Bill & Ted" and "Wayne's World" movies, its comic knuckles smashing every bump on the ground. If this Cro-Magnon-dumb film scores, prepare yourself for an avalanche of "isn't teenspeak bitchin'?" movies.

Less funny than your own funeral, its mission is to introduce us to yet another strain of post-surfer Cal slang. The new idioms are uttered by likable MTV personality Pauly Shore and unlikable pug Sean Astin, outcasts at Encino High. Digging a hole for a swimming pool one day, they uncover prehistoric guy Brendan Fraser in a cocoon of ice.

"It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance," a quaking Astin tells the caveman when he thaws.

"And we hope you don't gnarl our beaks," adds Shore.

Under his new friends' tutelage, adaptative Fraser (dubbed "Link") picks up their strange buzzwords, such as "buff" (cool), "grindage" (food), "chillin' " (hangin' out), "flamage" (cigarette lighter) and "fundage" (money). After Shore and Astin deck him out in '90s gear and attitude, Fraser becomes a popular fixture at school, as do his pals. Even ice babes Megan Ward and Robin Tunney turn their heads.

Fraser likes video games. He copies rappers and martial-arts movies. He wolfs down dog food, cologne and hot salsa. He etches computer-generated cave painting figures. He does sideways wheelies in a student-driver car. The mirth, you should be warned, never stops.

"Encino Man" saves its worst for last, especially with life lessons about Being Yourself. And in the most ridiculous move of all, the ice man's loneliness problems are all-too-conveniently solved. If there's a funny line in the movie, it comes from Astin's father, Richard Masur. Frustrated at the ceaseless dudespeak around the dinner table, he finally sputters, "Speak English."

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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