By 1988, teen sex comedies as we knew them were all but played out. Over a decade before the likes of American Pie would essentially revive and even deepen the shallow subgenre that had not much left to offer, State Park was one last-ditch effort by co-director Rafal Zielinski of Screwballs “fame.” He was one of the few filmmakers who was still churning out these movies in the late ’80s, and 1988’s State Park, reminiscent of the early ’80s, was one of his last.
A much milder version of the rife that flooded the decade—as several subgenres had—State Park never has sex at its front and center, and whenever raunchiness is present, it never feels like it wants to be there. Instead, it’s a film about a conglomerate owner businessman who has plans to dump toxic waste into Weewankah State Park (how many ’80s movies are catalyzed by a villain who recklessly dumps toxic waste?). There to stop him is a man dressed in a creepy-looking bear suit, made even creepier by the fact that you can see his eyes underneath (like Michael Myers) and his candid breaking of the fourth wall, which feels much too surreal to be in this paint-by-numbers teen comedy.
The man underneath is Truckie, a teenager who owns the local shop at the park, of which the businessman, Rancewell (Walter Massey), is strong-arming him into giving up. Truckie meets three girls vacationing at Weewankah for the week, falling in love with Eve (Kim Myers), while Linnie (Jennifer Inch) cheats on her longtime-boyfriend and Marsha (Isabelle Mejias) struggles with her relationship with Johnny (Peter Virgile), who she didn’t realize was a makeup-wearing metalhead.
There’s a side plot with Johnny and his bandmate Louis (Louis Tucci), a two-piece touring metal band (guitar and drums) who are trying to get to California and run into an elderly couple who play video games and electric guitars out of their Airstream.
The film has some really good ideas, such as the gear head old people or the recurring bits with a pair of believably dumb boaters, and directors Zielinski and Kerry Feltham, along with writer Darrell Fetty, are pretty good at crafting comedy, despite any known comedic actors at their disposal. However, the movie almost seems hampered by its obligation to the teen drama and actually constructing a serviceable narrative.
Not mentioning the macro conflict until an hour in, State Park possesses the typical oversight plot holes you would expect in a movie like this. Obviously, the mission of the antagonist would never be plausible in the first place, let alone all that difficult to prove—something which our hero doesn’t even attempt to do until 15 minutes left. Instead, the filmmakers handle their conflict as a one-sided prank war rather than a clever investigation.
State Park has some issues with its characters as well, especially early on. Our assumed protagonist at first, the staunchly monogamous Linnie, actually becomes the most unlikable of the bunch as she unrealistically and so easily goes down a path of unabashed promiscuity. At other times, sloppy transitions between scenes and missing scenes altogether make for hasty relationship developments. Even the couple we’re rooting for, Truckie and Eve, are cut away from when they’re about to share a kiss. Yet somehow the lack of actual plot inadvertently opens up room for our characters to develop, albeit haphazardly, and the ones who were initially unlikable grow on us incidentally over the course of the film.
Despite an unrealized premise, the pace never really dies and the poorly-edited episodic plot is actually inspired enough to become entertaining and enjoyable, strictly on a comedic basis. Not nearly the hormone romp of, say, Screwballs or Porky’s—not even close—State Park is more reminiscent of the off-kilter oddity of Meatballs Part II, but never goes full-alien—only half-bear.