Neil (Jack Nance … yes, Eraserhead Jack Nance) owns a summer camp where he teaches people how to water ski. Unfortunately, it’s been a while since Neil’s been a success. The camp is old and run down and Neil is just too good-hearted to enforce any discipline on his campers or his counselors. The evil Monica Shavetts (Sarah Douglas) owns the water ski camp on the other side of the lake and she is determined to put Neil out of business. Fortunately, Neil does have one ace up his sleeve. One of his former campers, Ricky Wade (Corey Feldman), has gone to become one of the top water skiers in the world and he has returned to help Neil save the camp!
Meatballs IV covers all the usual summer camp hijinks. The fat kid learns how to believe in himself. The female counselors all appear in topless. There’s a shower scene, of course, and there’s also a lot of humor centering around flatulence. When you’re 11 years old, this movie is pretty cool. Of course, saving the camp means winning a competition against the evil camp. At least Sarah Douglas appears to be relishing her evil role. There is one funny joke where Corey Feldman attempts to hit on a girl by telling her, “I was in Goonies.” I guess even back then, Feldman knew which one of his movies people would actually remember.
Jack Nance is his usual eccentric self in the role of Neil but he doesn’t get to do much. Sadly, it was while he was in upstate New York making this film that his then-wife, Kelly Van Dyke, committed suicide in Los Angeles. Reportedly, Nance had been on the phone consoling her and trying to talk her down. Unfortunately, a lightning storm knocked out the phones in the middle of Nance’s conversation with Kelly and she hung herself immediately afterwards. For many of us, Jack Nance would be the main reason we would sit through something like Meatballs IV but knowing that story makes it difficult to watch him in this film. Both Jack Nance and his wife deserved better.
Meatballs IV started out as a movie called Happy Campers, which was intended to be a low-budget rip-off of the original Meatballs. Then, someone realized that an even better idea than ripping off a successful film would simply be to change your movie’s title and turn it into a sequel. Meatballs IV tells the same basic story as the original Meatballs, with a bunch of plucky outsiders proving themselves over the summer. The main difference is that Meatballs IV has a lot more T&A than the original film and that the first film has Bill Murray as a camp counselor while this one has to settle for Corey Feldman. It’s not that Feldman’s bad in the role, of course. Despite what happened to his career in the 90s and beyond, Corey Feldman has always been capable of giving good performances, even if he often didn’t. (I can’t really blame him. Would you make much of an effort if you were appearing something like Dream A Little Dream 2?) It’s just that Corey Feldman is no Bill Murray. When Ricky first shows up at the camp, he energizes the campers by doing an elaborate dance routine, which he ends by shouting, “Elvis has left the building!” It has the same energy as that episode of The Simpsons where Homer is hired to voice Poochie on Itchy & Scratchy. It feels desperate, like the film is trying too hard to convince us that Ricky Wade is as cool as everyone says he is. If you have to work that hard to convince people that you’re cool, then you’re probably not.