Encino Man (Film Review): Enjoyable 90s Nonsense
1992’s Encino Man featuring Brendan Fraser, Pauly Shore, and Ke Huy Quan, delivers some fun despite being a ridiculous film.
I had never seen Encino Man (1992) prior to writing this review and in the wake of Brendan Fraser and Ke Huy Quan’s Academy Award wins, I figured I would give it a shot. After all, I was a fan of both actors as a child for their performances in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and George of the Jungle (1997), respectively. Seeing both actors have a renaissance in 2022 warmed my heart because they both have brought me endless amounts of joy.
Curiosity got the best of me, and I finally sat down to watch this film that both men had taken part in back in 1992. I knew extraordinarily little about Encino Man outside of the basic premise, so this would be a rather unique experience.
Encino Man (1992) centers on two geeky teenagers from Encino, Los Angeles, California: Dave Morgan (Sean Astin) and Stanley “Stoney” Brown (Pauly Shore). While digging a space for a pool in Dave’s backyard, the boys discover a cave person (Brendan Fraser) frozen in a block of ice. Dubbed “Link” by the teenagers, the caveman must adjust to life in the 20th century, which includes going to high school.
So, let’s get the obvious out of the way first: there is not really a plot here. In fact, the South Park episode “Prehistoric Ice Man” (1999) which parodied Encino Man, is written slightly better. Brendan Fraser’s Linkavitch “Link” Chomofsky, the unfrozen caveman, is the only character who receives any development during the near 90-minute runtime. Everyone else is your run of the mill stock character, variations of which you would likely be able to find in any 1990s comedy, and they end the film exactly how they started it.
In the case of one character, he gets worse as Encino Man goes on. Said character is our protagonist, the one that audiences are meant to root for: Dave Morgan (Sean Astin). He begins the narrative as this popularity obsessed dork, and while you are supposed to find that relatable, Astin just cannot pull the relatability off because the script goes out of its way to make Dave terrible. He is obsessed with Robyn Sweeney (Megan Ward) to the point where it is creepy instead of cute. She shuts him down constantly and Dave just keeps trying it over and over until it “works”, I guess. I know, 80s and 90s films did that sort of “guy gets the girl” thing all the time, but the best examples of that trope tended to make the guy someone you can root for.
I just wanted to see Dave fail, and when it became clear he was not going to, I found myself resigned to the trope and accepting the ending of Encino Man. I did not agree with it, and even though Dave supposedly learned a lesson, it certainly was not reflected in what I was watching.
The plot is nonsensical, with more telling the audience rather than showing, especially when it comes to the arcs of the characters. With that said, I had quite a bit of fun with this nonsense. Encino Man, for all the faults it has in terms of story, does not try to convince you that it is one of the greatest films ever made. It knows what you are here for, that being a ridiculous comedy about two teens that find a caveman in ice and the script written by George Zaloom and Shawn Schepps gives you that for better or worse.
Encino Man gives you all sorts of comedic/teen tropes. You have got your bully character in Matt Wilson (Michael DeLuise) whose only job is to provide an obstacle for our heroes, and to absolutely ham it up with a haircut that might remind you of Vanilla Ice. Robyn is of course more of a prize for Dave to win rather than an actual fully developed person. You even have future Academy Award winner Ke Huy Quan (credited as Jonathan Quan) in the small role of Kim, another nerdy high school student who comes off as slightly stereotypical. I will admit, it was a joy to see Ke and Brendan Fraser interact knowing what would eventually become of them. The writers do not play with these tropes in any unique ways or improve on them, and for me, outside of certain elements like Dave’s lack of an arc, or Robyn’s lack of character, that was fine. Why? Well, I enjoyed the “fish out of water” element of the story and the comedy that came with Link being a caveman unfrozen in the 1990s.
Fraser is giving it all he can in terms of physical comedy and working with what the script gives him. He is very funny, and the ridiculousness of the whole situation adds to the hilarity. This story does not make sense, but you may be laughing so much at the absurdity or Fraser to even care. You might also wind up in the same boat as Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who by the looks of their South Park parody, did not appear to care for the film. It all comes down to how much you can handle as a viewer. I groaned more than once while watching, but I did not have the urge to stop. It may sound like Encino Man is the “train wreck you can look away from” but I had fun even though I knew the film was not amazing.
Link’s arc and Fraser’s performance kept me entertained and laughing. He goes through so much, as one would expect, and you will find yourself rooting for him thanks to Brendan Fraser having an infectious enthusiasm that rubs off on you in Encino Man. It is impressive that Fraser is able to charm the audience even when portraying a character that speaks mostly by way of broken English, grunts, and yelling. His arc is the “fish out of water” tale cranked up to an 11, and may require you to suspend your disbelief, but does hit all of the beats that it is supposed to quickly and effectively. A particularly emotional moment with Link hit me right in the heart because the script sold it so well, and Fraser executed what he was given perfectly. Making this film work is a matter of hitting all your marks and in the case of Link, everyone does for the most part.
Unbelievably, I also really got a kick of Pauly Shore as Stanley “Stoney” Brown and enjoyed his performance in Encino Man. The character is written better than Dave, though he does not get much of an arc (these are stock characters, and except for Link, they stay that way). Stoney, as his name implies, is a bit of a dim-witted stoner, one with a heart of gold. His relationship with Link stems more out of a desire to help him and become friends rather than popularity like Dave, and that was cool to me.
Shore has some good comedic moments, especially when paired with Fraser as Link. Stoney also has a ridiculous catchphrase that is funny at first, beaten into the ground, and then comes back to being worthy of a slight chuckle again. Dave and Stoney’s friendship in Encino Man is fine, but extremely typical in terms of the way they butt heads and are opposite outsiders that decided to stick together. Any argument they have is quickly resolved, when in reality it probably should have ended their friendship, which is another sort of 90s cliche.
Had Stoney not been in Encino Man, serving as comic relief, and having a great friendship with Link, this film would have been unbearable to watch even with Fraser giving his all. Sean Astin tries to make Dave Morgan work as a protagonist, but just cannot, and if he did not have Shore by his side, I would have absolutely given up. I can handle a lot, as this review clearly demonstrates, but boy do I not like Dave as a character at all, and I would not sit through a film with just him and Link.
Another positive is the soundtrack, which features several hits and the funk metal supergroup, Infectious Grooves, even makes a cameo. The music really adds to the fun of Encino Man, because it is a solid mix of recognizable tunes and songs that I had never heard before. One enjoyment that I definitely would not have gotten out of this had I seen it in 1992 was being in awe of the outfits and pointing out the various now dated things like the look of the Doritos bag in the film. Even some lines of dialogue are pretty dated in both good and bad ways, and pointing these things out added to Encino Man, and helped keep me involved.
There is good, bad, and downright awful in Encino Man, and honestly, I recommend it solely based on that fact. Some parts of it will be funny for sure, others will be cringeworthy, and it might even wind up being memorable to you, at least a little bit. I got enough joy out of this to at least justify the one watch even if I may not watch this film ever again.
Encino Man is now available to watch on digital and on demand.