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I Watched This On Purpose: Bio-Dome

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Sometimes, even The A.V. Club isn't impervious to the sexy allure of ostensible cultural garbage. Which is why there's I Watched This On Purpose, our feature exploring the impulse to spend time with trashy-looking yet in some way irresistible entertainments, playing the long odds in hopes of a real reward. And a good time.

Cultural infamy: Critics and audiences alike found the 1996 Pauly Shore/Stephen Baldwin vehicle Bio-Dome to be an abomination unto the Lord, an affront to the gods of cinema, and also a very bad movie, bad enough to be considered the gold standard of crapitude in Shore's oeuvre. It currently holds the distinction of having the single lowest Metacritic score in history (it scored 1 out of 100), though it does have a comparatively robust 8 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Co-star Kylie Minogue has called it the single biggest mistake of her career. It won Shore a Golden Raspberry for Worst Lead Actor, helped destroy his film career, and popped up as a punchline on Family Guy, Futurama, and the "Weird Al" Yankovic song "Albuquerque." But can Bio-Dome also be considered a crucial part of Christ's master plan for humanity? According to one of its stars, the answer is "Yes."


Curiosity factor: Jesus led me to Bio-Dome, or rather, it helped lead Stephen Baldwin to his current calling as Jesus' emissary among the young, stupid, and totally X-treme, which in turn led him to write a book called The Unusual Suspect, which I'm covering for a blog feature called "Silly Show-Biz Book Club." Here's my main man Stevie B on why Jesus wanted him to follow a potentially career-making turn in The Usual Suspects by playing second banana to The Weasel:

I can honestly say that part of God's plan for my life was for me to ignore the advice of my managers and make a movie that was universally panned by the critics. Yes, God wanted me to star in a film about two brainless slackers who spend their days watching television, making out with their girlfriends, and drinking large quantities of various substances… The film was brainless and pointless and hilarious and God wanted me to make it. I didn't think like that at the time. Making Bio-Dome played right into my usual, let's have a good time attitude. God had other plans, I just didn't know it at the time.


When I say God wanted me to make this movie, I do not mean to imply that He approved of everything in the film. The film contains stuff that does not reflect the life I now live. I haven't even allowed my children to see it.

I know some people think the movie kept my career from really taking off the way it could have after The Usual Suspects. People who think that don't realize that without Bio-Dome I could not have the career I have today, and I'm not talking about movies.

The critics may have hated Bio-Dome, but kids loved it. They loved it when we first made it and they still love it today. Everywhere I go I have some kid in his late teens or early twenties come up to me and tell me that this is their favorite movie. Most have never seen The Usual Suspects, or 8 Seconds or Fled, or One Tough Cop or any of my other sixty movies, with the possible exception of The Flintstones In Viva Rock Vegas. But they've seen Bio-Dome over and over again. That's why God wanted me to make the film.

I didn't know it ten years ago when I agreed to become Doyle Johnson, but God had already called me both to know Him personally and to impact the youth culture in America with the Good News of Jesus Christ. I didn't know it because I didn't know Jesus at the time. One of the reasons kids will listen to me today is because they recognize me from the movies. But not just any movie. One movie: Bio-Dome.


God had me make this film to give me the platform that would later become my life's work. At the time I just wanted to goof off with Pauly Shore for a couple of months. God knew that, and He also knew the plans He had for my life, plans He made sure came to pass.

Oh sure, Stevie B could have used The Usual Suspects' buzz to make a movie that wasn't terrible or wasn't an embarrassment to him and his family, if not to mankind as a whole, but Stevie B don't play by the rules. Here's Stevie B's take on why Stevie B does it Stevie B's way:

Instead of playing by the rules I agreed to be in a movie called Bio-Dome with Pauly Shore. Some of the people representing me told me to hold off on the picture even though the studio was offering me a ton of money. Instead of listening to them I read the script and nearly wet myself laughing over what I could do with the part. At the time Pauly Shore was hot, he was funny and I thought we world work well together.


But that wasn't even my logic for doing the movie. All I wanted to know was whether it was funny and could I have a good time making it. I didn't do the movie for any other reason than Stephen's own personal will and desire to serve himself. My attitude was: I want to have a good time, so take a hike, it's my career. That's why I did it.

Did Bio-Dome keep me from reaching the pinnacle of Hollywood? I don't know. Maybe. But it also had some far-reaching positive effects I'm even now just discovering.


How can you not be just a little curious about a universally panned comedy with divine origins? To find out why God wanted Stevie B to make Bio-Dome, I decided to check it out for myself.

The viewing experience:

Bio-Dome opens with a bright, shiny assault of rapid-fire images with an immediate message: "Don't watch this film unless you're really, really high." Everything else about the film reinforces that message. Bio-Dome is far too sacred, some might even say religious, an experience to be wasted on the sober and lucid. It is an invitation to turn off your brain—preferably with the aid of mood-altering substances—recalibrate your attention span to "nonexistent," and give in to your inner moron.


The fun starts with Tucson Junior College student Pauly Shore smashing roommate/best friend/partner-in-idiocy Stephen Baldwin in the head with a book to fake a concussion so they can avoid attending a dreary Earth Day function with their environmentally minded girlfriends (Joey Lauren Adams and Teresa Hill).

After uncovering this sinister plot, Adams decides to teach the dunces a lesson by pretending she and Hill are headed to a "kegger party" (where they'll undoubtedly consume "drink beverages" and "liquor booze") with buff collegiate swimmers. Consumed with jealousy, Shore and Baldwin take time out from giving themselves hobo pedicures (by chewing their toenails), and head to the nonexistent party to keep jocks from macking on their ladies.


The dumbass duo ends up at the titular biosphere (boy, there's a phrase I don't use very often), under the mistaken impression that it's a mall. Then nature calls, and Baldwin is in desperate need of a place to drain the lizard:


Through a series of misunderstandings, the boys become trapped in a biodome with a group of scientists funded by cranky millionaire Henry Gibson, and led by William Atherton, playing yet another cranky, easily angered authority figure.

Rather than admitting to the mishap and ejecting Shore and Baldwin, the researchers decide to use them as the human personification of the Chaos Theory. Shore and Baldwin soon come to understand the ramifications of being part of the biodome experiment:


Stupid and manic doesn't begin to describe either Bio-Dome or Shore and Baldwin's hyper-caffeinated performances. They're whirling dervishes of misplaced energy, bouncing off walls, ricocheting off each other, indulging in silly dances, and generally making giddy, gleeful, unapologetic asses of themselves. The two communicate in a singular dialect that at times sounds almost like English; it combines surfer patois, elementary Ebonics, homemade slang, and nonstop pop-culture references.

For its first half-hour or so, Bio-Dome is almost transcendently stupid. It borders on avant-garde in its contempt for linear storytelling and comprehensible dialogue. Like Boat Trip, Bio-Dome is so crazily over-the-top and shameless that it almost becomes a parody of idiotic, high-concept comedies.


But that level of numbskull kinetic energy is difficult, if not impossible, to sustain for an entire film. Bio-Dome gradually becomes a more conventional, less inspired slobs-vs.-snobs comedy, with Shore proving incontrovertibly, "Just because we're stuck in a bubble doesn't mean we can't cause any trouble."

He and Baldwin wreak havoc throughout the carefully planned ecosystem with their madcap antics. For instance, they uncover a stash of munchies and a nitrous oxide tank, and enjoy a laughing-gas-fueled freakout. It's an exquisitely redundant development, since they behave like drug-addled delinquents even when they aren't huffing gas. Bio-Dome is essentially Stoned Idiots Amusing Themselves: The Movie. That's probably the nicest thing that can be said about it.


In a wholly unexpected development, Shore and Baldwin teach the uptight scientists (including a shamefully fully clothed Kylie Minogue) how to loosen up and have fun, and the scientists teach the boys a lesson or two about maturity and the importance of preserving mother Earth. But first, Shore and Baldwin break free from the dome and throw a giant party that contaminates the biosphere and puts the entire experiment in jeopardy.


Just when it seems that all is lost, they decide to complete the experiment anyway, vowing to stay in the dome for the full year and rallying the troops. With the help of about half a dozen montage sequences set to upbeat pop songs, the slobs and the squares unite for the sake of environmentalism and scientific progress.

This entry would be more eloquent, but I'm afraid watching Bio-Dome broke my brain. I must now learn how to operate with a blown mind. Bio-Dome runs out of energy well before the halfway mark, but in light of Baldwin's explosive revelations about Bio-Dome and the role it has played in his ministry, I think the film's aesthetic qualities are irrelevant. Bio-Dome doesn't exist to please critics or audiences. It exists to lead easily entertained dumbasses with low standards to Christ.


I can only imagine the number of times some glue-sniffing Bio-Dome aficionado spots my man Stevie B on the street and says, "Hey, aren't you that idiot from that moronic Pauly Shore movie? I love you! That's my favorite movie!", only to have their hero Stevie B gaze deeply into their eyes and retort, "I sure am. Incidentally, have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Not only is Christianity totally X-treme, but heaven is like Bio-Dome, only better!" Bam! Score another saved soul for the Stevester. Bio-Dome isn't merely entertaining halfwits. It's saving souls. It's doing God's work, one dumbass at a time.

How much of the experience wasn't a total waste of time? About 30 percent. That is, of course, if you take God out of the equation. But why would you?