I have a lousy week ahead of me, a se'nnight of non-stop litigious cockwombling. Which, even if one has right on one's side, is draining and depressing. So I find myself in the mood for some low comedy, and, as it's "EU Talent Day" on Monday, I thought I'd feature a quintessentially American take on the EU's talents. Among this picture's distinctions is the fact that it's Matt Damon's finest hour. Well, okay, finest three minutes. But maybe that's what he should stick to. We'll get to that later, as we celebrate the many pleasures of EuroTrip, which demonstrates a sounder grasp of geopolitical realities than most Hollywood product.
I loved EuroTrip when it first came out in 2004. Well, okay, I loved the first two-thirds of it. It got crummy reviews – "Tasteless Eurotrip Doesn't Travel Well" – and sank without trace only to prosper on video, or DVD, or whatever it was back then. Yet it seems to me there is rare wisdom in its sense of its own limitations.
The plot is really no more than a pencil outline. Scotty (Scott Mechlowicz) has finished high school in Ohio and been dumped by his girlfriend. When he mentions this to his penpal in Germany, the German guy starts coming on to him. Enraged, Scotty breaks off all contact. His friend Coop (Jacob Pitts) then points out to him that "Mieke" is not German for Mike but a girl's name, and that, in the photograph of Mieke and "his" cousin Jan, Jan is not the hot-looking blonde but "Yan" the dorky-looking guy. The hot-looking blonde is Mieke – or "Meeka".
So Scotty and Coop decide to fly to Berlin. Unfortunately, the only available cheap flight is to London. But not to worry, says Coop. "The whole of Europe is, like, the size of the Eastwood Mall. We can walk to Berlin from there." So off they set, and spend the next ninety minutes wandering from London to Paris to Amsterdam to Bratislava to Berlin to Rome, with time for one low ethnic stereotype gag at each stop.
In America, those reviewers with memories of their own pre-varsity Grand Tour to refer back to took a sniffy view of the stereotypes on offer. In London, for example, Scotty and Coop go into a pub full of Manchester United fans. "Why," wondered The Washington Post's Desson Thomson, flaunting his cosmopolitan sophistication, "would a group of fans from a northern English region speak in London-area accents, unless they were the so-called Cockney Red variety of Man U. fan? And why would they be wearing shirts that bear no resemblance to their club colors?"
Well, maybe because it's a movie, and the stereotype has been distilled to its essence. Surrounded by menacing yobs, Scotty and Coop claim to be from the Manchester United Fan Club of Ohio. When Vinnie Jones challenges them to sing the club song, Scotty thinks for a moment and then tries a little Sheena Easton:
My baby takes the Morning Train
He works from nine to five and then
He takes another home again...
And amazingly he's right! A deeply touched Vinnie embraces his Ohio brethren, and pretty soon Scott and Coop are in the thick of it as their new pals are affectionately shattering beer glasses over their heads and going "Fooking great, fooking fookers!" and so forth.
Is Sheena Easton really the official Man Utd song? Or is Desson Thomson correct and the film is inadequately researched? Who knows? The point is, having got thoroughly rat-arsed, Scotty and Coop come to the next morning and realize that that pleasant breeze riffling through their hair is because they're on the top deck of a topless double-decker bearing the legend "IF YOUR [SIC] NOT A MANC YOUR [SIC] A WANK" hurtling down the left-hand side of a French autoroute because Vinnie Jones thinks driving on the right is for Frog nancies. "Fook off, tossers!" he yells at the oncoming Renaults and Citroens.
Who can say this ten minutes doesn't capture the essence of England at least as well as the entire Merchant Ivory and Richard Curtis oeuvres rolled into one? Scotty and Coop stagger down the stairs to the lower deck to find the lads already awash in the first 15 early morning pints. "You guys have a completely different level of swearing over here!" marvels Coop.
After that, the stock types get a bit more hit and miss. The Continental men are mostly creepy perverts and indiscriminate bisexuals, which seems accurate enough, from my experience. There's a smiling, moustachioed, predatory Italian in a white suit who enters their compartment and, as the train emerges from successive tunnels, he's stroking one of the Americans' legs, or nuzzling his neck, or, after one very long tunnel, sitting back contentedly on the seat smoking a cigarette. Each time he's caught, he pleads oleaginously, "Mi scoooosi.... Mi scooooooooooosi...", and then does it again. But in Paris the designated stereotype is a tiresome mime making the mile-long queue for the Louvre move even slower. And in Amsterdam, it's an S&M dungeon.
But, as I said, I was howling with laughter. In among the nudist jokes and Pope jokes, EuroTrip is an honest acknowledgment of near total ignorance. One thing I'm surer and surer of since September 11th is that America and Europe know next to nothing about each other. For a couple of years afterwards, every Monday I'd get a big pile of London Sunday papers full of lame features professing to have the inside track on the latest trends in America, and it was all, as they say in Britain, bollocks on stilts. The one saving grace of the American media is that they can't be bothered to reciprocate: a four-decade old joke about the alleged French obsession with mime will do for at least another four or five decades, by which time the Fifth Republic will be the First Islamic Republic of France and the Yanks may have to come up with a new gag. EuroTrip, with its scenes of Paris, Berlin and Rome all filmed on the cheap in Prague, somehow captures the state of the Atlantic alliance more accurately than any in-depth analysis.
If that sounds like an over-elaborate justification for the thesis of the picture, for those who see motion pictures as more of a visually expressive form of storytelling, one should note that every girl in the cast except the luscious-lipped lead (Michelle Trachtenberg) takes her top off. And Matt Damon gives his best ever performance in a cameo as the shaven-headed rocker who's nailing Scotty's girlfriend and gets a hit song out of it, "Scotty Doesn't Know":
I can't believe he's so trusting
While I'm right behind you thrusting...
Like I said, Matt Damon's finest three minutes. I just wish he'd reprised it as Dr Mann in Interstellar.
~There'll be plenty of movie talk on the Second Annual Mark Steyn Club Cruise, sailing up the Alaska coast in early September. Among Mark's guests will be Dennis Miller, star of Disclosure, The Net, What Happens in Vegas and, of course, Bordello of Blood, as well as Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, producers of last year's Gosnell. And Kathy Shaidle, who covered for Steyn in Mark at the Movies last summer, will also be aboard. More details here.