Dude, Where's My Car?
We all have guilty pleasure movies, films we love to watch but can't explain why to anyone else. They're dumb. They're crass. They're beyond bad. And yet, when the film comes on, we'll watch it and laugh uproariously to it because it hits a chord with us just right. For me, for the longest time, that film was Dude, Where's My Car?, a dumb stoner film starring Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott. I would tell people, "I know this film is dumb, and bad, but man, is it fun." Sometimes that's all you need.
It's been a few years since I last watched the film, though -- watching stuff regularly for this site to keep content flowing forced a steady flow of new, and unreviewed, media past my eyes -- but I wanted to revisit the film and see if it still held up in that, "damn, this is dumb but fun kind of way." At times it did, but there is content in the film that now seems pretty dated and awful. It's a film that seems nice and silly but there's a mean-spirited edge to some of the humor that absolutely keep the movie from being an easy, fun watch like it used to be.
The film is about two idiot stoners, Jesse Montgomery III (Ashton Kutcher) and Chester Greenburg (Seann William Scott). The two of them wake up blitzed out of their mind after a late night of far too much smoking up and partying (as they call it, "shibby-ing"). When they try to piece together what happened, they can't remember a thing. However, a call from their girlfriends, Wanda (Jennifer Garner) and Wilma (Marla Sokoloff), complaining about them bringing a party to their house and leaving it trashed, and also that it's their anniversary and the boys are nowhere to be found, sends the guys running. They know they have presents for the girls in Jesse's car, so they can drive over, give the girls the presents, and apologize.
Only problem is: they can't find the car. Whatever they did the night before, the car is missing. So they decide to head off, meeting up with friends (and getting stoned) so they can retrace their steps. While they wander, they come across people demanding the boys hand over the "continuum transfunctioner", a device that no one can really describe but is said to have limitless power. Apparently some time during the night the boys ended up with this device and different factors of (human-looking) space aliens want the object. If the two guys find it, they have to decide who to hand it to, otherwise the whole universe could be destroyed. And, also, there are hot chicks and a lot of pot.
To be clear, Dude, Where's My Car? is a deeply silly movie. Like with other stoner films, such as all of the Harold and Kumar movies, it's set up like a road trip film (over a very short set of streets in this instance), letting the heroes wander in and out of various skits and vignettes until, finally, they reach some kind of conclusion for the story. It doesn't have a plot so much as the boys eventually stumbling on an ending that fits the various pieces that were laid out.
That works when the skits are amusing. There are some scenes that are absolutely iconic, and those have stayed funny (and in the collective consciousness of those that have seem the film, or the memes based on the film) all these years later. Scenes like Jesse yelling at the Chinese food take out system because the woman on the other side keeps saying "and then?" Or Jesse and Chester discovering they have tattoos of "Dude" and "Sweet" and them getting angrier and angrier because they can't communicate what the tattoos say -- "Dude. What's mine say?" "Sweet. What about mine?" over and over. It's dumb, yes, but these moments are also hilarious in their tightly constructed humor.
But then there are gags that simply don't work. The most obvious, and at this point most objectionable, is the plot line of a trans stripper who gave the boys a briefcase full of money the night before and demands they give it back to her. It's possible to write a character like this and not make her the butt of a joke, but that's not where Dude, Where's My Car? goes. It does the trans panic humor of, "oh god, a chick with a dick" and then finds every mean-spirited crack it can make about her. Frankly, these scenes could be cut from the film and it wouldn't matter to the over all plot at all. You don't need an explanation for how two guys could afford to go on a wild adventure; taking the stripper, and her briefcase of money out of the film would tighten the story and get rid of some of the worst "humor" in the film.
The film is also pretty immature in a way that doesn't really play as funny at this point. The boys, for instance, are unable to say the word "breasts". They keep calling the female mammary glands "hoo-hoos", which I guess is amusing once, but their continued inability to say anything other than "hoo-hoos" throughout the film makes them sound like 12-year-old pre-teens, not a couple of 20-somethings with girlfriends that can hold down jobs and actually eventually do something of consequence. Now, yes, these guys are supposed to be emotionally stunted, but there's a different between a little immaturity and talking like grade schoolers.
Of course, the other major flaw is that the women in the film are treated like sex objects and nothing more. Yes, Jesse and Chester say they love their girlfriends, but their whole quest is to find the car and give their girls presents so they'll finally have sex with the boys. When other girls come along, it's so they can offer the boys sexual favors. Hell, one of the two alien factions are a set of five "hot chicks" who promise the boys erotic pleasure if they hand over the continuum transfunctioner. None of the ladies in the film exist to do anything more but offer sex. It's pretty regressive.
Does this ruin the movie? Back in the day I would have said no because I was amused by all the jokes around these moments. Going back and watching the film now, it is hard to divorce myself from these moments. I'm sitting down to watch a comedy and I'd like to be able to get through it without having to apologize (to myself as well as others) because the content in the film feels regressive and mean-spirited. The unfortunate fact is that Dude, Where's My Car? has too many of these moments to be ignored.
I think with some tweaks it wouldn't be hard to turn Dude, Where's My Car? into a solid stoner comedy that you can watch and not regret. There is enough funny content in the film that you can watch certain scenes and laugh and relax and not have to think (an ideal situation for a stoner comedy). If they do ever make a proposed sequel that's been floating around for a while -- Seriously Dude, Where's My Car? -- then I do hope they give the ladies of the story more to do while also avoiding any gay panic or trans panic humor as well. That kind of stuff leaves me preferring the clips and memes of this film more than the movie itself.
And that means that a film I used to count as one of my great guilty pleasures will likely sit on a shelf, not to be watched again. Sad, but sometimes you mature past a film you used to enjoy.