Totally radical! Bodacious! Far out! Awesome! These are some of the declaratives that became a part of our vernacular during the 1990s, and I would use none of them to describe Encino Man (1992). It is not just because it has Pauly Shore in it. That is bad enough. What made matters worse is the low-brow humor it resorts to in its desperate attempt to make us laugh. And yes, that was meant to be a cave man pun.
Encino Man starts with a pre-historic tragedy. An earthquake buries he who will become Linkovich “Link” Chomovsky (Brendan Fraser), along with his so-called “Cave Nug” (Sandra Hess), in an icy enclosure. Somehow this preserves Link for thousands of years a la Ted Williams’ frozen head, but with the whole body. In modern times, David “Dave” Morgan (Sean Astin) and his best friend Stanley “Stoney” Brown (Pauly Shore) are digging a hole in Dave’s back yard because they have decided that a swimming pool is the key to high school popularity. In the course of their excavation, they uncover a chunk of ice that Dave notices has a person inside it. Instead of calling the proper authorities, he makes the inexplicable decision to put it in the garage and thaw it out. Actually, Dave tries to explain this decision to Stoney, saying that now this will be their ticket to fame and fortune . . . even though they proceed not to tell anyone. This is not the only time I said “Huh?” while watching this film. This moment is soon followed by Dave inviting his crush, Robyn Sweeney (Megan Ward), over to see the body on ice. So I guess he tells one person, but she does not believe him because who would? And she rightly turns him down. Undeterred, Dave’s next bizarre plan is to introduce Link into a regular high school life. Yes, the man who jumped straight from the Stone Age to the Computer Age is suddenly going to be thrust into the complicated world of being a teenager in the 1990, and this is going to be how they get more friends? And for some time, strangely it seems to work. Link has what the movie portrays as charming innocence, though it is really grunts and a one track mind for fire, food, and/or females. Or is that a three-track mind? Simplistic, anyway. No matter how you look at it, Link is able to win over the student body with guttural noises and aping (another intended pun) the behaviors of those around him. Everyone likes Link, except for Robyn’s ex-boyfriend Matt Wilson (Michael DeLuise), who seeks to bully Link, Dave, and Stoney whenever he has the opportunity. This behavior leads Robyn to deny Matt’s request to be her date for the upcoming prom. Angered, he decides to go for the classic bully revenge tactic. No, not beating his perceived antagonists senseless, but breaking into the school files and finding out Link’s true identity. I am sure you have seen that trick a hundred times. His information quest also involves sneaking into Dave’s bedroom where he spots polaroids taken of Link’s thawing, conveniently labeled proclaiming him to be a pre-historic person. Matt then gets on stage at prom and attempts to blow the whistle on Cro-Magnon-gate. Because everyone likes Link, or has chosen to ignore the obvious signs of his temporal displacement, they all laugh Matt off the stage. And despite seemingly being more interested in Link, Dave’s strength of character (truly, for lack of a better phrase) means that Robyn finally gives in to his advances. And I guess so that Link would no longer be bereft of a date, the Cave Nug also comes out of the ground at the end.
What do we know about Paleolithic peoples? Squat, and Encino Man banks on you not being some kind of pre-historic expert. Hence, the comedy seems to revolve around the idea that would it not be chucklesome to place a cave man in modern times. Geico made a run of commercials on this topic, but they were funny because they played with peoples’ stereotypical notions of Stone Age men not being bright. Suffice to say, science says otherwise. But that is not the picture presented in the movie. Instead, it is every stereotype you can think of regarding cave men placed in a modern context. Actually, it was the people who made this movie who were the ones with low intelligence, or maybe they were actually from Estonia as Dave attempts to tell his parents that is where Link arrived from as an exchange student. For example, in English we say saber-toothed tiger, not cats, though I suppose at the end of the day they are all cats. If that is not enough, how about the way they have Dave going about winning over Robyn? When the whole, hey, I have a cave man line does not go over as he hopes, he resorts to bringing a picture of when they are toddlers and apparently used to bathe with each other. Yes, nothing like a picture of two unclothed kids together to get the relationship juices flowing. There are also scenes of mouthwash being used to clean Link’s body, windows opening sideways, and other times when the elements seemed to have been suggested by an alien. For these reasons, I sat through the entire film stone faced.
What made Encino Man even worse is that Stoney is held up to be the moral authority in the film. Look, I said and thought enough uncharitable things about Pauly Shore in my review of Son in Law (1993), and I really do not want to say anything more about him. He does caution Dave about using Link simply as a stepping stone to greater recognition at school. Hooray for that, and that is an idea this Catholic appreciates. But the rest of the time he is his usual, English language butchering, misogynistic self. For him, and the other truly strange aspects of this film, it gets a hard pass from me.