Hollywood Pictures (1992)
This teen comedy about two high school friends who accidentally bring a preserved caveman from a block of ice into the modern world premiered in theaters thirty years ago today. Encino Man stars Sean Astin (from The Goonies) alongside Pauly Shore and Brendan Fraser in both of their first leading roles in a feature film.
This movie will always be a pleasant childhood memory for me. I moved to South Florida to live with my dad, my stepmom and my stepsister a few months before Encino Man was released. Stephanie (my stepsister) was a big fan of Pauly Shore from MTV, so the four of us went out to see this movie on the big screen shortly after it debuted in theaters. Steph and I both loved it and spent the rest of the summer annoying our parents with quotes from the movie. Liz (my stepmom) did her best to play along by calling us "buuu-ddy" whenever we did this. My dad tolerated all of this as best he could until we moved on to annoying him with the next pop culture reference that came along.
One of the more embarrassing stories of me as a pre-teen came as a result of this movie. I was 11 years old at the time, so I was pretty quick to adopt the "weasel" manner of speaking. If you aren't familiar with Pauly Shore's work in the early to mid 90's, he had a persona that he called "the weasel" who spoke in stoner surfer dialect that was kind of like Bill & Ted or Spicoli from Fast Times At Ridgemont High. This caused a few kids to call me "Stoney", which was Pauly Shore's nickname in Encino Man. That in itself wouldn't have been too terrible if not for the time and place that this nickname was applied to me.
Here's the situation: before the end of the school year, I had written an essay for D.A.R.E. which was picked as the winning essay in my class. This meant that I was invited by the Palm Beach County Police Department to join the kids who wrote the other winning essays from the other classes for D.A.R.E. Camp. It wasn't really camping, and it probably had some other name that I've long forgotten. For a couple of weeks in June and July, a few of the officers would take me and the other kids to all kinds of different places. I remember that went bowling and to a movie on my 12th birthday (we got to see A League Of Their Own the first day it was in theaters), and we went a bunch of other places, like Sea World and Busch Gardens. It was a hell of a lot of fun, and it was all completely free of charge. So anyway, I had no idea that "Stoney" was a drug reference. There's no weed or any other drug in Encino Man, and the plot is about a caveman, so I just thought it was a reference to the stone age. So, when my dad asked my why the hell a bunch of kids are calling me "Stoney" in front of a bunch of police officers who were taking us out on outings as a part of a program to teach us to say no to drugs, I had no idea why he sounded so upset. He then clued me in about what the name "Stoney" meant. Whoops!
Naturally, this movie was much too silly and fun for any of the critics to admit that they enjoyed it. This review from The Palm Beach Post is pretty representative of what most adults were saying about the film at the time. I was 11 years old and I thought it was great. Now I'm 41 and I still think it's pretty great. Obviously, it's not a work of cinematic genius, but I hope that I never become so bitter and joyless that I can't watch a movie like Encino Man without smiling and having a good time.
In retrospect, Encino Man reminds me a bit of Teen Wolf. The stories aren't direct parallels, but they follow a lot of the same beats: A mild-mannered high school kid has a wild best friend and a crush on an unobtainable girl. Then, something happens that propels him to be seen as cool. In Teen Wolf, the kid discovers that he's a werewolf and he "wolfs out" to become a party animal. In Encino Man, the kid discovers the preserved body of a caveman who is encased in ice. He thaws out and becomes the coolest guy in high school, which makes the kid popular. By the end of both Teen Wolf and Encino Man, the mild-mannered kid learns to relax and stop trying to be cool, which is when things start to fall into place. The two films would probably make a great double feature for folks who know how to turn off their critical brain and enjoy a couple of silly and fun comedies.