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Dude, Where's My Car?

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Here's a pretty good rule of thumb for pre-judging comedies: If the title makes you laugh, the movie probably won't. From Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla through Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead and beyond, the titles provoke chuckles, but the movies don't. For a surprisingly generous portion of its screen time, Dude, Where's My Car? seems on the verge of bucking that trend through sheer force of will. A raunchy stoner comedy squeezed into a PG-13 shell, Dude stars Ashton Kutcher (That '70s Show) and Seann William Scott as a pair of dull-witted suburban housemates who wake from a night of partying unable to recall the events of the night before. Wandering from place to place, they piece together a story involving, for starters, a misplaced car (of course) and a suitcase full of money. Embarrassingly stupid at times, giddily stupid at others, Dude keeps the gags coming so quickly that it becomes difficult to sort the good from the bad. Within the first 20 minutes, the heroes encounter a pot-smoking dog, breakdancing strippers, a gang of menacing jocks, and Fabio. Not every joke works—many fall flat, and those that connect do so on the basest possible level—but director Danny Leiner and writer Philip Stark, both TV vets, show signs that they know how to make a lightweight teen comedy. Or maybe they just have a good sense for which movies to rip off: Dude borrows heavily from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and Repo Man. Scott and Kutcher's world (complete with saintly twin girlfriends who work at a school for the blind) resembles a high-schooler's fantasy of adult life, an element that reveals a healthy amount of self-awareness, but the film can't sustain it. After building up considerable good will thanks to a pleasing brainlessness and likable leads (particularly Kutcher, who invests his dumb-guy roles with an almost scary believability), Dude ultimately repeats its best bits while devolving into crude physical comedy. (Crotch jokes admit no irony.) Any film that places its protagonists in shiny Adidas track suits for a significant portion of its running time can't be all bad, but Dude eventually takes on the same traits as its leads: It's too charmingly stupid to hate, but you wouldn't want to spend a lot of time with it.