Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bill Murray, Harvey Atkin, Kate Lynch, Russ Banham, Kristine DeBell, Sarah Torgov, Jack Blum, Keith Knight, Cindy Girling, Todd Hoffman, Margot Pinvidic, Matt Craven, Norma Dell'Agnese, Chris Makepeace, Michael Kirby
Written by: Harold Ramis, Janis Allen, Len Blum, Daniel Goldberg
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 99
Date: 06/28/1979

Meatballs (1979)

3 Stars (out of 4)

It Just Doesn't Matter

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's time for summer at Camp North Star. Head counselor Tripper (Bill Murray) plans to make it a good one. His agenda includes chasing the pretty lady counselor Roxanne (Kate Lynch) and playing nighttime pranks on owner Morty (Harvey Atkin). He also spends some extra time with shy kid Rudy (Chris Makepeace), encouraging him to take up running as a way to boost his confidence. When it comes time for the annual Olympiad, a competition with the rich, mean camp across the lake, it's up to Rudy to participate in the make-or-break final event. Does the camp's dignity hang in the balance? "It just doesn't matter."

Ivan Reitman directs his first of four movies with Bill Murray, and he instantly understands how to give the great comic actor room to mess around. It's Murray's spontaneity that gives the movie its lifeblood. But Murray also shows an early, rare example of onscreen tenderness, in his scenes with the shy boy Rudy (Chris Makepeace, who went on to play a similar role in My Bodyguard). Murray clowns with the boy, but it comes from a place of genuine caring.

However, Murray's star power outshines most of the rest of the cast, and Reitman can't seem to find a balance for the rest of the movie. Its sweet, serious scenes come at awkward moments, and take up a bit too much of the final stretch. And its supposedly raucous, irreverent humor feels deliberately held back at times. This feels odd since National Lampoon's Animal House raised the bar for movie comedy just a year earlier. But on the other hand, Meatballs has a low-key tone that feels just right for summertime viewing.

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