Encino Man

“We found him. We can do whatever we want with him.”

ENCINO MAN is I guess a landmark in 1990s American cinema because it introduced “the Pauly Shore movie.” Then in his mid-twenties, Shore was the son of The Comedy Store owners Sammy and Mitzi Shore, so he had started doing standup and hanging out with Sam Kinison as a teenager, developing his surfer dude/stoner/Valley Boy persona “The Weasel” – one of those characters who has a certain way of talking and catalog of slang and catch phrases that seem to be beloved by somebody somewhere, but to those of us who came in late it’s unclear whether you had to be there to get it or if there even was a joke in the first place.

He had been in a few movies, including 18 AGAIN! and PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’S REVENGE, but his big break was in 1989 when he became an MTV VJ, in character. A year later they gave him his own very popular show called Totally Pauly. When ENCINO MAN was in development at Disney, the head of Hollywood Records got Jeffrey Katzenberg to watch Totally Pauly and then put Shore in the movie. He didn’t want to play the caveman, so the filmmakers worked with him to rewrite the protagonist’s best friend character to be a weird guy who says “nugs” and “weez” and stuff in such a way that it’s clear that it must be funny.

By the time the movie was finished, Shore was the main selling point. One of the promotional items they released was a “Weasel Wheel” to translate the “hardcore vocabulary” of “the stoniest, mop-haired weasel you will ever witness.” For example, “GRINDAGE” means “FOOD.” Fun stuff! The video poster says, “Starring MTV’s Ma-jor Dude, Pauly Shore!”

Since I had never seen this before I was surprised to find that the actual lead is Sean Astin (between TOY SOLDIERS and RUDY), who does not appear on the movie poster or any version of the video cover. He plays Dave, a high school senior who often mentions being from Encino to other people also from Encino while they are in Encino. “I’m not going down as this geek kid from Encino,” he vows. He dreams of being the prom king and dating Robyn (Megan Ward, CRASH AND BURN, TRANCERS II), who he grew up with but who has always rejected him. Like Mary Jane in SPIDER-MAN and so many others, she’s an angelic nice girl despite having a jock asshole douchebag boyfriend, this time named Matt (Michael DeLuise from 21 Jump Street). One of Matt’s bullying achievements is to write “EAT ME” on Dave’s head, lift him up off the ground and and staple him by his clothes to a bulletin board. Impressive.

Dave also wants to have a swimming pool, like all the families surrounding his, so he’s trying to dig one in the backyard when he hits a piece of clear plastic representing a chunk of ice. We know from a prologue that during the ice age a caveman (Brendan Fraser in his first released theatrical movie, though he’d already filmed SCHOOL TIES) was buried in an earthquake while hanging with his lady friend (Sandra Hess, also in her first movie – she was later in BEASTMASTER III and NICK FURY: AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. and played Sonya Blade in MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION).

Dave’s response to finding a frozen prehistoric man in his backyard, and the premise of the movie, are puzzling to me. He insists to his unlikely best friend Stoney (Shore) that “This could be fame, or money, or popularity.” But instead of trying to contact anyone about what to do with their archaeological discovery, they secretly dig up the ice and leave it to melt in the garage while they’re at school. When they come home they learn that he’s alive, and has trashed the house and tried to start a fire. They calm him using a lighter, give him a makeover and clothes, and name him Link. So, yeah, it’s sort of a TEEN WOLF “what if we took a thing, but put sunglasses on it?” type of concept.

I don’t believe there’s any discussion of whether they should contact scientists or anything. There’s no claim that they need to protect him. But they keep him as their secret friend, like E.T. They convince Dave’s mom (Mariette Hartley, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN RIDE!”) and dad (Richard Masur, MY SCIENCE PROJECT) and the school that he’s a foreign exchange student from Estonia.

Their assumption is that if they have a caveman, but pretend he’s just a guy they know, they will become popular. And it works! All the cool girls, including Robyn and her friend Ella (Robin Tunney in her first movie, to be followed by EMPIRE RECORDS and then THE CRAFT), immediately think Link is cool, and start hanging out with him, and therefore Dave and Stoney. But of course it backfires because they still don’t like Dave and are more attracted to the literal neanderthal, who’s way more fun to be around.

I wonder what I would think of Stoney if I had no other exposure to or pre-conceived notion of Pauly Shore. I mostly find him annoying and inexplicable, but there are a few of his non-sequiturs that did make me laugh, and though it’s mostly just a hippie/stoner kind of archetype, he has a better attitude than Dave. For example Stoney doesn’t think it’s a problem that Link (for some reason) doesn’t fight back when Matt punches him in the face, saying that he’s a pacifist. (Dave insists on showing him wrestling and kung fu videos as fight training. Doesn’t seem to have helped Dave, but it works for Link.) I also gotta respect Stoney for how many pink outfits his wears to a high school in 1992. I think that’s just a Pauly Shore thing, but it’s also a theme throughout the movie that Dave is overly concerned with what other people think of him, while it doesn’t even occur to Stoney to care about that.

They go to a bar called “El Crib” where we see that common ‘80s/‘90s comedy trope of the menacing-people-of-color-who-become-unlikely-friends-to-the-suburban-white-kids. In this case it’s members of the Latino-American performance group Culture Clash (Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza) who make Stoney drink a bunch of tequila and threaten to kill Link for fondling one of their “muchachas” (Sicily Rossomando), but then decide Link is funny and give them all a ride home in a lowrider.

Matt sees Robyn get out of the car and says, “Nice element you’re hanging out with.” Racist!

By the way, the bartender at El Crib is Jeffrey Anderson-Gunter, a.k.a. the guy who was in MARKED FOR DEATH who was also one of the morphing people in the “Black or White” video.

Fraser is very dedicated to the role, leaping, crouching and grunting, getting all smeared in mud, eating gross things. A nonsensical detail is that he sees dancing on TV and starts imitating it, so any time there’s music he lets loose, and Fraser does a good job of seemingly un-self-conscious goofy dancing. And it’s crucial to the plot because Dave refuses to dance even with Robyn so once again she doesn’t want to go to the prom with him, and instead goes with Link.

Of course Matt is jealous too so he comes up with an evil plot, breaking into school files and then Dave’s bedroom and stealing Polaroids that prove Link is a caveman. The funny thing is that his response isn’t some sort of, “Wait a minute… what in the—?” Instead he says, “Gotcha!” He runs to the prom and gets up on stage to make an announcement that they’ve been lying, Link is not from Estonia, he’s a caveman!

I assume in the real world everyone would laugh and he would get nowhere. Or in a movie even worse than this one, his ploy would work and Link would be humiliated. To the movie’s credit, I guess, everybody just cheers. But then, moments after the plan has failed, Dave runs in in a panic saying “Give me those pictures!” Then Link (after being called a homophobic slur) airplane spins Matt and throws him into a cake. Then Robyn looks at the photos and looks upset.

But Link dances so Robyn doesn’t care anymore and somehow everybody, including Dave, somehow do a choreographed dance with Link. So at a party afterwards Robyn says “What you did was pretty cool” and kisses Dave. I guess because he danced one time? That was all you’ve been waiting for all these years?

Astin’s fellow Goonie Ke Huy Quan shows up in a very small role. It was his followup to BREATHING FIRE and he wouldn’t have another credit until the Taiwanese martial arts movie RED PIRATE five years later. Rose McGowan only has a couple lines as Nora, one of the cool girls at school, but it was her first movie character with a name. She was apparently in Seattle’s own CLASS OF 1999, but uncredited. Four years later she was in Shore’s BIO-DOME.

As you know, I pay attention to bedroom posters in these vintage teen movies for time capsule type purposes. Dave has two items I think I might’ve had too: promos for the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik and the Brand New Heavies’ self-titled first album. I’m surprised Dave would be into the latter, but I guess he got a deal from Delicious Vinyl, because he also has Tone Loc and Def Jef posters. My vote for most believable poster is the one for “Best Video of the Year Finalists.” I can make out C+C Music Factory, Deee-Lite, DiVinyls and R.E.M. album covers on it. It’s ugly but it’s the kind of random thing you would find in a free poster bin at a music store and take it if you were into a couple of the bands.

The soundtrack is a good illustration of either the transitional place we were at in popular music or the random mix and match of songs movies used to have back then. I talked about Check Your Head and Lollapalooza at the beginning of this review series, but ENCINO MAN is a little behind all that. Vince Neil’s theme song “You’re Invited (But Your Friend Can’t Come)” was released as a single and touted on some of the advertising. The singer had recently been fired from Mötley Crüe for drinking too much to contribute to the band (though in a statement they blamed his focus on race car driving). Weirdly, the movie also has a song by The Scream, whose singer John Corabi was Neil’s replacement in Mötley Crüe.

In a similar vein, we have songs by Steve Vai, Def Leppard and Queen. Then in a certain other category we have Cheap Trick doing a cover of “Wild Thing” and The Smithereens doing “Wooly Bully.” We have some very California-in-the-’90s representation with Infectious Grooves (a slap-bass-heavy “funk metal” outfit I forgot about featuring members of Suicidal Tendencies and Jane’s Addiction) performing at the prom.

But we also have a Tone Loc song and Compton rapper Hi-C’s tribute to jheri curls, “Leave My Curl Alone.” And also the Jesus and Mary Chain. And in the El Crib scene (but not on the soundtrack) there’s a dance song called “Rhythm Is A Mystery” that just keeps saying “Move your body / Move your body to the rhythm” over and over again. It’s cheesy and generic enough I thought it might be one of those ones put together by the score composer (J. Peter Robinson, HIGHLANDER: THE FINAL DIMENSION, RUMBLE IN THE BRONX). Turns out it was by a real group called K-Klass who had released the song in 1991 and it had reached number 3 on the UK singles chart.

You’ve also got the whole makeover montage set to Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy,” a little PM Dawn, and most annoyingly the fight training montage set to a cover of “Mama Said Knock You Out” by “American eclectic thrash metal band” (source: Wikipedia) Scatterbrain.

I don’t expect these lowbrow comedies to have consistent musical curation. What if they did, though? Would that improve them? I think it would. Or at least make you say, “Great soundtrack, though!”

ENCINO MAN is the feature directorial debut of Les Mayfield, who, along with producer/story provider George Zaloom, had stumbled into becoming Steven Spielberg’s go-to behind-the-scenes-footage shooters while they were roommates at USC. They produced numerous making-of TV specials as well as HEARTS OF DARKNESS: A FILMMAKER’S APOCALYPSE and PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING. According to a recent oral history on Inverse, they pitched ENCINO MAN to Hollywood Pictures executive Dan Halsted, because he was their former agent, and he said “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” but two hours later had sold Katzenberg on it. It was the first test of an idea Katzenberg had been preaching post-DICK TRACY that they needed to make smaller, cheaper movies that wouldn’t need to beat BATMAN to be considered successes. It worked, opening modestly at #4 but playing long enough to almost sextuple its $7 million budget in theaters, before being a hit on video. (The reviews, of course, were terrible.)

The screenplay is credited to Shawn Schepps, the actress who played Sarah Connor’s co-worker Nancy in THE TERMINATOR – the one who told her about the other Sarah Connor being killed. The article on Inverse doesn’t mention that detail during a story about Katzenberg calling Schwarzenegger to get permission to use a clip of the “I’ll be back” scene in the movie. I wonder if Schepps was the one who wrote that joke in the first place?

Shore must’ve liked Schepps, because she soon wrote SON IN LAW for him. To me her most notable work is DRUMLINE. In 1996 she wrote, directed and acted in a TV movie called ENCINO WOMAN, that took a different spin on the unfrozen cave-person premise. An intern at a marketing firm (Corey Parker) finds a prehistoric woman (Katherine Kousi) and has success after recruiting her to be a spokesmodel for a cosmetics company. Shore is not in it but Bobcat Goldthwait appears as a character named “Yogi Paxil.” Variety’s review describes “a midshow outtake featuring Disney chief Michael Eisner” discussing with “a Ripley’s Believe It or Not demeanor” a newspaper article about a frozen prehistoric man found in a glacier in the Alps. (By that point Katzenberg had left and formed Dreamworks.)

Fraser of course got alot of attention for the role and subsequently worked his way up with some dramas interspersed between more comedies. He cameod as Link in Shore’s movies SON IN LAW and IN THE ARMY NOW. He is best known for MONKEYBONE and LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION.

Mayfield went on to direct MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, FLUBBER, BLUE STREAK, AMERICAN OUTLAWS, THE MAN and CODE NAME: THE CLEANER. Ward became a TV star on shows including Party of 5, Melrose Place, Boomtown and Sleeper Cell. But Astin topped all of them by becoming a Hobbit.

Tie-ins: Disney’s Hyperion publishing arm released a tie-in book (advertised in the credits) called Stoney’s Encino High Notebook. I thought it would be funny to get a copy and check it out but the ones currently on ebay are listed for $150-$200, so I will pass! Luckily one includes pictures, so I can see that it’s made to look like a lined notebook with handwritten text and collage with “Stoney” writing about the story of the movie in his Weas-speak or whatever. There was also a Scholastic kid’s novelization by Nicholas Edwards, who also did ones for STAND AND DELIVER, ARACHNOPHOBIA and KAZAAM.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 15th, 2022 at 2:01 pm and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

21 Responses to “Encino Man”

  1. “Fun” fact about this movie: here in Ireland (and the UK, possibly the rest of Europe) this was released under the title “California Man”, as local audiences would have no idea what “Encino” means.

  2. Flying Guillotine

    June 15th, 2022 at 4:02 pm

    Infectious Grooves is notable for including a Robert Trujillo, who would go on to replace Jason Newsted as the bassist for Metallica.

  3. Whenever I learn about some online “influencer” who seems impossibly annoying, I remind myself that in the 90s we had Pauly Shore. And then I’m not quite as judgmental of the younger generation.

  4. In Germany, it was released as STEINZEIT (Stone Age) JUNIOR. I assume it was to capitalize on the unexpected success of the Australian comedy YOUNG EINSTEIN a few years ago, which was released here as EINSTEIN JUNIOR. Probably they also thought Pauly Shore looked like Yahoo Serious and could trick people into thinking they were the same person. That kicked off the shortlived trend of giving Shore’s movie a _______ JUNIOR name. SON IN LAW came out as SCHWIEGERSON JUNIOR (Son In Law Junior) and JURY DUTY went DTV as CHAOS! SCHWIEGERSOHN JUNIOR IM GERICHTSSAAL (Chaos! Son In Law Junior In The Court Room). I kinda think there were a few more Shore-unrelated JUNIOR movies, but compared to the classic re-titles with Django, Frankenstein or Academy, it never caught on.

    Now this movie: I kinda liked it as a kid. When I watched it a few years ago, not even I got much enjoyment out of it, outside of Fraser’s commitment and a certain time capsule factor. It did amuse me how sudden the movie ended. It felt either like nobody gave a shit anymore and they just rushed to the ending (Possible) or whatever originally was supposed to happen, didn’t fly with test audiences, so they removed a whole act and quickly shot a new ending within less than 3 hours, that also fixed the audiences concern that the opening scene might have been too tragic.

    I remember that I saw ENCINO GIRL, but don’t remember anything about it, except that it was a boring Sunday afternoon, the movie started, John Kassir’s name popped up in the opening credits and my sister, who is a huge TALES FROM THE CRYPT fan, decided that we won’t switch the channel.

  5. Thank you for this, Vern! Encino Man is still one of my all time favorite movies containing some of my all time favorite tropes (underdog buddies one or both of whom have their own, cool unique style; snobs vs. slobs dynamics; reckoning with toxic masculinity; dance numbers!) I didn’t know who Pauly Shore was going into the movie but came out a super fan. Like you said, I really responded to the movie’s message of “be yourself.” The one thing I miss about the 90’s is that “weird” was considered “cool” for a little while. Sure girls still liked jocks but they’d also show interest in the shy kid with green hair who was always listening to his walkman (hi!) That died pretty quickly by the late 90’s-early 2000’s when conformity once again was all rage (“you’re either with us or against us”- George W. etc.) But Shore was such a singular force back then I couldn’t help but be impressed (I still have a soft spot for him despite him not having the best reputation…sigh)

    All I can add is that, because it was a Hollywood Pictures film, Hollywood Records (owned by Disney) did the soundtrack which lead to a Sacred Reich cameo in the film?! Also, Stoney stops Dave from calling scientists because he’s sure they’ll just chop Link up and do experiments on him. Matt sees Link doing a lot of “ape” like things over the course of the movie (including crying in the caveman display at the science museum) so finding out Link is a caveman, while odd, his reaction is not entirely bizarre. And I believe the crowd cheering when Matt announces link is a caveman is because the school’s mascot is a wooly mammoth and it’s inferred Encino High students consider themselves “cavemen?”

    Also, I never had a copy of Stoney’s Notebook but DID own a copy of the novelization where all the Pauly Shore-speak was translated into regular English.

  6. In my early teens, I had a friend who was obsessed with Pauly Shore’s comedy albums, and by sheer force of his stubborn meathead will, he infused our peer group’s vernacular with an unhealthy dose of Weez-speak. We spent a good deal of Summer ‘92 talking about “weezing the juice,” whatever that means.

    Yet I have never seen this movie or any other Pauly Shore vehicle. I was as susceptible to peer pressure as anyone but there are limits.

    I would also like to take this opportunity to stand with Vern in his bold moral stance against the destructive revisionist theory that Brendan Fraser’s filmography is in any way “good” or “watchable” or “the kind of thing you can express admiration for in public without shame.” I’m sorry you millennials got saddled with a particularly embarrassing crop of childhood classics but that’s between you and your therapists. Please don’t expect the rest of us to enable your sad delusions.

  7. Thanks for those clarifications, Buzz. When you say “translated into regular English,” do you mean they defined the terms, or that they were not used? If it’s the latter I bet it’s because they based it on a script from before the Pauly Shore rewrites and/or improv.

  8. @Vern – The latter. I remember “Please don’t gnaw on our beaks!” from the movie became “Please don’t rip our throats out!” in the novelization.

  9. Watched a bunch of Pauly Shore movies a few years ago and a thing that hurts a lot of them is that they’re clearly middling comedy scripts that have been re-written to fit him into them somehow. The thing that I think gets illustrated in Encino Man is there is an innate sweetness/innocence to the Weasel character that doesn’t compute with hollywood screenwriting.

    Like, the whole deal is that his affectations and behavior are abrasive and weird, but he legitimately means no harm at all times. But it’s hard to mine conflict out of that so instead the movie is about Sean Astin being a complete douchebag who wants to exploit a human being to gain popularity at school, whereas Shore’s intent is always just to innocently have fun.

    Some of the other flicks miss the mark by making him more of a selfish character so that he can be humbled and learn a lesson, but I think the Weasel character is only enjoyable if he carries that innate innocence. When he’s jealous or selfish or spiteful on top of being such a weird-ass cartoon character it torpedoes his charm.

    The flick I think uses him the best is Son In Law. It’s the flick that best understands what is funny about the character and actually understands that people would find him offputting at first. It’s the only one that feels like it was actually developed from the ground up for Pauly Shore. That’s not to say it doesn’t have it’s share of dumb 90s comedy bullshit, but it’s a lot more fun than In The Army Now or especially Jury Duty.

  10. Hey, Free Dummy

    June 16th, 2022 at 12:04 pm

    I was 14 when this came out, so I saw it in the theater, probably opening weekend. I used to tape Totally Pauly for my friends because my parents had a satellite dish and in my hometown the cable provider didn’t carry MTV at the time (deep south). I also had Pauly Shore’s cd and to this day know the lyrics to the entire first verse of Lisa, Lisa. That whole late 80s/early 90s transition period was such a weird time.

  11. Kevin: Those of us in Pennsylvania didn’t know what the hell Encino meant either.

    I have no recollection of any part of this movie, but that poster was an ad in every comic book from this period, so it’s burned into my brain.

  12. I never really enjoyed Pauly Shore’s shtick much. But, in my younger years, I worked at the Comedy Store for a while back when Mitzi was still around. She was a miserable person to be around, in my opinion. But Pauly would occasionally come by and hang out near my desk and was always very pleasant to me. I still don’t think I can sit through any of his movies, but at least in my limited experience he was a nice guy.

  13. I remember what a big deal this was when I was in high school but it never quite works. Largely because I think as has been pointed out Astin’s character is so unsympathetic, and he’s ostensibly the hero. If we were to analyze it from a modern lens we may say he’s got toxic nice guy entitlement. He thinks he deserves the girl just by wanting her, let alone seeing a her as his reward (it’s been a while. Forgive me if I’m overlooking some demonstration of his sincere affection for her).

    I didn’t mind Shore’s run. I enjoyed them all for what they were except for bio-dome (and even that has a great rocket scientist line). Pauly Shore in the army/a jury/the biodome had a shorter shelf life than Will Ferrell in X but it was easy to see the comic potential. Surprised he didn’t at least get a DTV run of vehicles. He probably just missed the moment when Hollywood icons could parlay their remaining fan base into a series of cheaper entries. By the time it became real it was too late.

  14. Oh and when I moved to LA I was shocked that Encino was just a small strip of the valley. But even more surprised how small and out there San Dina’s is.

  15. Dimas

  16. This was one of the most quoted movies at school when I was a kid and it was still fresh to home video. We had an excuse. We were under 10. It’s crazy how I can still quote it to this day. I still use “shush” quite a lot though not to verbally belittle my lady. I’m surprised in today’s more enlightened era it hasn’t been called to be cancelled yet. It’s problematic as fuck in retrospect lmao but it still trips me out Disney once released it every time it’s on TV these days and I happen to catch it. Maybe people are learning to just let things of their time remain well…of their time and just keep it moving.

  17. I’d like to be the guy who says “I think Paul Shore is funny”. And I guess I could say it, but it wouldn’t be true. Well, PAULY SHORE IS DEAD had its moments. I remember thinking the trailer for JURY DUTY looked funny when I was 10ish, but I never saw the film.

    But why was he called the Weasle? Because of that noise he makes? Seems a bit thin. I don’t get it.

    Just watched a clip from this, followed by a clip of Shore on Arsenio. I guess there’s a sweetness to him in ENCINO MAN that’s a little appealing, but the Arsenio routine is dire. Though he mentions touring with Warrant at the time, which fits in with the whole “transitional era” thing.

    The 90s man, I’m starting to realise there’s no other decade I so love and hate simultaneously. Sometimes I love and hate the same thing when looked at from different angles (particularly when you bring in all that “extreeemee!” marketing that was so common, which I hated even as a kid).

  18. I think the academic term is that they Poochify the caveman. (I think season 8 was the start of the decline of the Simpsons, but it’s got the Poochie and Frank Grimes episodes…)

    I remember not liking this much at the time – I keep thinking I was already out of its target audience, but I would have been 18 at the time? Pretty sure I saw it dubbed on TV, so the worst of the Shore-isms went unnoticed; I’d only become aware of the guy after he became an internet punching bag. No other details stick out, except that it had a Jesus and Mary Chain song after the band went down the drain.

  19. This movie actually holds some fond memories for me. It was one of those times where my friends and I wanted to go see a movie but nothing appealed and we decided on this one not really knowing anything about it. We ended up having a great time. I know we watched it at least a few times after it came out on video but it’s been a lot of years since I’ve seen it and I just want to leave it in my past because I’m sure it won’t hold up. I do still on occasion say, “ow, my pancreas” when suffering a minor injury.

  20. Grimgrinningchris

    September 3rd, 2022 at 5:03 am

    According to his book, Sean Astin really really really did not want to make this movie but was pressured into it by Katzenberg. However with that pressure came to great things… This movie got him Rudy and doing the movie got him a development deal with Hollywood Pictures which led to his short film, Kangaroo Court, which he got an Oscar nomination for.

    Also, I must echo Dtroyt. Pauly is actually a pretty nice guy. I can’t speak to how he was during his heyday but years later I booked him and hung out with him several times and he’s always been a hoot. I think he’s more inherently funny just hanging out than his actual act is these days though.

  21. I loved this movie as a kid, but I was 8 at the time so my sense of humor was pretty underdeveloped. I recently rewatched it and I noticed that Sean Astin’s character is a bit of creep (particularly that photo of him and his crush in the tub together) so it’s a bit unpleasant.

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