Back to School Part II #36: Dead Man On Campus (dir by Alan Cohn)


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Oh my God, it’s Zack Morris smoking pot and getting laid!

That, in a sentence, is the main appeal of the 1998 comedy Dead Man On Campus.  This is the film that features Mark-Paul Gosselaar playing a character who does everything that most Saved By The Bell fans have always assumed that Zack Morris was doing whenever he wasn’t on-screen, fooling Belding, tormenting Screech, and gazing at Kelly.

(By the way, if you’re interested in the further college adventures of Zack Morris, check out Primetime Preppie, where Derek Morris and I are reviewing every single episode of Saved By The Bell: The College Years!)

In Dead Man On Campus, Gosselaar plays Cooper Frederickson.  Cooper is a college student.  He spends most of his time partying and consistently fails his classes but since he’s going to a college that apparently doesn’t believe in academic suspension, it doesn’t matter.  Cooper’s father continues to pay for him to go to school.  To be honest, Cooper is kind of a jerk but he’s also really hot.  He wears glasses and there’s just something about a bad boy with bad eyesight.

(Seriously…)

Anyway, Cooper has two roommates.  Kyle (Jason Segel) is … well, he’s Jason Segel, giving another one of the somewhat odd performances that typified his film career before he co-starred with The Muppets and played David Foster Wallace.  His other roommate is Josh (Tom Everett Scott).  Josh starts out as a responsible and hard-working student but then he falls under Cooper’s bad influence.  He also gets a girlfriend (Poppy Montgomery) and ends up having so much fun that he blows off all of his classes.

Suddenly, Josh realizes that he’s about to lose his scholarship.  At the same time, Cooper’s father comes to visit and announces that he will no longer be paying for his son’s lifestyle.  If Cooper flunks out of school, he’s going to end up cleaning toilets for his father’s janitorial service.

Oh no!  Zack Morris cleaning a toilet!?  How the mighty have fallen!  I guess they’re screwed, right!?

Nope!  It turns out that there’s a clause in the university charter.  If a student’s roommate commits suicide during the school year, that student gets perfect grades for the semester!  (I was told the same thing during my first semester at the University of North Texas.)  Unfortunately, Kyle has recently moved out of the dorm and neither Cooper nor Josh are willing to die for the other.

So, they decide to get a new roommate.  After breaking into the school’s student files, they identify the three students who are most likely to commit suicide.  One is an aspiring singer who Cooper and Josh come to suspect might be faking his depression as a way to hit on girls.  (Okay, that’s kind of clever because I know that I’ve gone out with people who I thought were dark and profound, just to discover that they were actually rather boring and bourgeois.)  Another is a nerdy computer guy who has paranoid delusions about Bill Gates.

And then there’s Cliff.  Cliff is actually the first potential roommate that they investigate but he also makes the biggest impression.  In fact, he makes such a big impression that he ends up overshadowing everyone else in the film.  Cliff is played by Lochlyn Munro, who has subsequently become one of the patron saints of the Lifetime network.  (Seriously, it seems like Munro shows up on Lifetime on a daily basis.)  Ripping through the film like a cyclone, Munro is definitely the highlight of Dead Man On Campus.  It turns out that Cliff isn’t so much suicidal as he’s just absolutely insane and Munro goes so wonderfully over the top in the film that he briefly brings some much-needed life to this comedy about death.

Anyway, Dead Man On Campus is a pretty forgettable movie and it’s never as clever as it thinks that it is.  But it does feature Mark-Paul Gosselaar taking hits off a bong and that’ll definitely make it worth seeing for some viewers.