1991, Starring Dean Cameron, Stuart Fratkin, Mark Thomas Miller, Tom Breznahan. Directed by Damian Lee (Moviestore Entertainment).
Starting with Bob Clark's coming-of-age tax shelter era classic Porky's, Canada began a decade-long and storied association with lowbrow teen sex comedies, a critically savaged run of films that existed almost exclusively thanks to the illicit promise of naked flesh. But by the 1990s, the disposable genre was on the endangered list, the victim of over-saturation and increasingly silly premises. From Party Camp and Stewardess School to Canada's own Fireballs, it appeared that almost every last dollar had been squeezed out of this particular subgenre. But if these disposable teen sex comedies have taught us anything, it's that you should never give up hope, even when a ragtag team of perpetual screw-ups is pitted against overwhelmingly popular and talented opponents.
Released just a few years after the screwball boom had been reduced to a whimper, Damian Lee's Ski School was more or less a lone voice on the bunny slope. It certainly didn't bring anything new to the table--in fact, it was a none-too-subtle carbon copy of the 1984 flick, Hot Dog: The Movie--but Lee's back-to-basics sex comedy still managed to become something of a hit after the film was picked up by MCA for U.S. home video distribution. Starring Dean Cameron and Stuart Fratkin as wisecracking ski bums constantly on the lookout for the next party, it's a simplistic, cheerfully dumb film that not only satisfies all the expected conventions, but somehow manages to rank as one of the better Canadian-made examples of the genre.
Eschewing the campier gimmicks of its immediate predecessors, the plot is your stereotypical snobs versus slobs set up: Cameron stars as Dave, a ski instructor more interested at getting to the bottom of a beer bottle than the ski slope finish line. His rival, Reid (Mark Thomas Miller), is a top notch athlete and stuck-up narcissist who only lets other privileged bluebloods join his “Section 1” team.
His elitist attitude soon backfires after Reid rudely rejects just-enrolled John (Tom Breznahan), and sends him to Dave’s notorious “Section 8” headquarters. The only problem is that John’s both a hit with the ladies and an incredible talent on the slopes, and may be the only one who can help Dave’s party-weary misfits overcome Reid’s dirty tactics in an upcoming school-wide competition. Things get even more complicated when it’s revealed that the school’s owner plans to sell the slope, and conspires with Reid to get Dave fired and his students expelled before the final events.
Mixing decently filmed skiing sequences with humorous scenes of Dave and his crew drinking, partying and pulling pranks on Reid’s arrogant goons, Ski School appears proud of its decidedly boneheaded plot and well-worn wacky antics. From broadcasting a cagily-cut video that shows two of Reid’s buddies getting into bed with each other (tricked by John’s main love interest, Lori (Darlene Vogel)) to ruining Section 1’s private gym after a particularly raging party, there’s a palpable sense of madcap fun in the film as Dave playfully thumbs his nose at the establishment, one of the most essential elements to the subgenre's overall success.
But without a likable protagonist, it wouldn't matter how many uptight preppies were put in their place. As such, Dean Cameron’s memorable performance as the authority-defying Dave is the linchpin of the film. Working several routines with Stuart Fratkin’s goofy Fitz, including charming a sauna-full of ladies with lambada lessons, Cameron rises above virtually everyone else in the cast. He even appears to be largely improvising, making the best of some (no doubt) badly written dialogue. His laconic, laidback delivery and witty one-liners nudge the film along nicely when the clunky scripting, courtesy frequent Lee collaborator David Mitchell, threatens to surrender to clichés.
As with its less interesting sequel, Ski School is also one of Canada’s few sex comedies that is completely upfront about its Whistler, B.C. setting. Unfortunately, you would be hard pressed to otherwise uncover this effort as Canadian-made, as the main cast is almost entirely made up of imported American actors, a rarity for teen sex comedies shot north of the border.
But with a beer in o ne hand and a slice of pizza in the other, most audiences will be more focused on Cameron and Fratkin’s off-the-cuff performances, the glimpses nudity and the scaled back, easygoing plot, the three main points that managed to make this film a hit on video in the early 1990s. It was so successful, in fact, that screenwriter Mitchell continues to recycle the same snow and sex formula as a director, in Ski School II (1994), Ski Hard (1995) and the recent Tom Green vehicle Shred (2008).
An easily watchable effort that doesn’t succumb to mean-spirited misogyny or outlandish absurdity to get its laughs, Ski School is no undisputed classic of its genre, but it’s reputation continues to snowball impressively, making it rise above many of its less essential peers.