Pauly Shore is Dead (2003)

Pauly Shore, beloved star of such deathless cinematic triumphs as Son-in-Law (1993) and Jury Duty (1995), committed suicide after a long, painful slide into the depths of despair. After his untimely death, friends and admirers such as Ben Stiller, Dr. Dre, and Ellen DeGeneres lined up to pay tribute to this comedic genius. Or so goes the plot of Pauly Shore is Dead. Shore, very much alive, wrote and directed this low-budget examination of the double warp effect of early death and Hollywood, and the results, though mixed, are more intriguing than you might expect.

Starring as a version of himself that may or may not be aligned with reality (part of the fun is guessing at the honesty of his portrayal), Shore picks up his story just after his presumably lousy Fox sitcom has met with the sudden death it deserved. With almost all his money gone to prostitutes and all his good will spent on a string of unwatchable films, Shore is washed up. The film’s foray into the living death of erstwhile celebrities is almost difficult to watch when coming from and acted out by so many genuine has-beens like Shore.

Though Pauly Shore is Dead manages to pull together an astounding roster of A-list cameos (Adam Sandler, the Hilton sisters, Snoop Dogg, Charlie Sheen, Chris Rock), their parts are inconsequential. It’s the sub-D-listers who give the film its “heart” as well as its funniest moments. Todd Bridges, seen here in jail studying the Koran, gives Shore some needed advice on how to get his life and career back on track. An arrogant and ascendant Carrot Top buys poor Pauly’s house, oblivious that he is not just taking up residence in Shore’s former home but also in his niche as a gimmicky flash-in-the-pan. Best of all is Rico Suave. Decked out in his vintage gear, Rico has been reduced to selling oranges with his young son on the side of a California highway. When Shore refuses to buy any and drives away, Rico pelts his car with oranges. It’s easily the funniest moment yet in any Pauly Shore movie, one that, I daresay, shall not be topped.

If only Shore had the good sense to stop there. After being visited by Sam Kinnison’s ghost (don’t ask), Pauly decides that the best thing for his career would be to kill himself, or better yet, fake his own death. So he does, but the fallout from his shocking “demise,” ostensibly the raison d’etre of the film, is brief and predictable. Big stars who didn’t care about the man when he was alive shed showy tears and heap praise upon him. At last, a movie with the courage to point out that Hollywood is full of phonies!

From there on in, Pauly Shore is Dead loses its way. It tries to assemble a plot about Shore’s unraveling hoax and its aftermath, even tying it all together with a montage-laden redemption story. But it seems that, for as much as Shore is willing to lampoon his own body of work he hasn’t learned any lessons from it. He was vastly funnier as a slacker comedian than within the confines of cookie-cutter Hollywood comedies. Totally Pauly, his MTV show, was largely shapeless, running from one disconnected bit to another, but his disastrous conventional films proved that imposing order on Shore via a banal plot ruined him. The anarchic first half of Pauly Shore is Dead avoids this. It’s the greatest episode of Totally Pauly never aired. The second half, sadly, is essentially a bizarre variant of his old movies, wasting time with character development and lessons learned. No one wants that from this guy.

This hybrid of what’s good and bad about Shore makes an intriguing mess, and it wants an explanation. Shore is on hand to deliver it via his generous (some might say, decadent) bonus features. The deleted scenes are deleted for a reason, but they do feature the guy who played Screech on Saved by the Bell, yet another impressive self-deprecation Shore managed to coax onto celluloid. A few other features add nothing important, but the making-of featurette, the audio commentary, and a Q&A session with Shore give a fuller yet less endearing portrait of the artiste’s motivations for making the movie. Shore’s ostensible humility is belied by his desire to gather together an impressive cast of celebrities and his defensiveness on the commentary about what was and wasn’t taken from his real life. The Q&A with film students is more than a little ridiculous. Though Shore cracks jokes at the start of nearly all his answers, he’s too comfortable in the role of successful writer/director/actor dispensing wisdom from on high. He takes himself far too seriously and sounds earnest when he says that he hopes Pauly Shore is Dead can inspire people trying to turn their lives around. If that’s the direction he’ll be going from now on, he’ll have pulled off the impossible, making himself even less welcome than he was after 1996’s Bio-Dome.

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