25 years ago, the guys behind South Park made the cringiest sci-fi movie ever
Unlike South Park, this movie failed to make a lasting impression.
1997 was a landmark year for Trey Parker and Matt Stone. On August 13, the project that would define their careers premiered. South Park was crass, crudely animated, and utterly revolting, but it was also, as Variety writer Ray Richmond described, “gloriously subversive art.”
Just one month after South Park’s premiere, Parker and Stone released their next great project — or so they thought. A live-action movie about a young, naive Mormon missionary who becomes a superhero porn star. The movie and its hero shared the same name: “Orgazmo,” a reference to his sci-fi ray gun that indues involuntary orgasm in evil-doers.
Would this outrageously crass and irreverent comedy propel Parker and Stone into movie stardom just after they took the television landscape by storm? Not exactly
In theory, Orgazmo should have been a riotous, raunchy, sex comedy. The elevator pitch certainly has appeal: “The story of a Mormon missionary who inadvertently winds up starring in an adult film in Los Angeles, but who never seems to lose his faith.”
In the era of VHS tapes and DVDs, it sounds like the kind of movie that would have flopped in theaters only to find a devoted audience at your local Blockbuster. Orgazmo never achieved cult classic status. It’s a film that has aged not like a fine wine but more like a moldy hunk of gorgonzola.
I’ve seen The Book of Mormon live on stage, so, going into Orgazmo, I thought it might be a satirical take on Mormonism and the porn industry. But unlike Parker and Stone’s successful Broadway musical, Mormonism is used here more as a plot device rather than genuine cultural satire. There’s no real commentary about Mormonism or any religion, for that matter. Any other religion could have been swapped in without changing the story fundamentally.
The central joke is simply: “This guy is so religious and conservative, and he’s doing porn!” The comedy never gets more profound than that. Most of the humor revolves around throwing the main character Joe (played by Trey Parker), into increasingly uncomfortable situations on a porn set and watching him squirm.
Oh, and butts. This movie loves to feature full-camera close-up shots of men’s bare butts. That’s it. Just in-your-face butt shots. It’s not shocking, but it’s not funny either.
If you’re going to resort to nude humor, it works better as a clever joke when there’s a proper setup, like an unexpected situation that has the character naked. Or maybe it’s a surprise to see a specific character naked, and that’s what makes the situation funny. It’s lame and unimaginative when the joke is, “This is a butt! Isn’t it hilarious?”
Orgazmo also has a tone problem. Even in the ‘90s, it must have come across as a little creepy, but it’s painful to watch today. Joe’s on-screen sidekick, the brilliant MIT-grad turned porn star, Ben, aka “Choda Boy” (Dian Bachar), uses his scientific expertise to invent sex toys. His latest creation is a functioning ray gun that forces orgasms on people (so Joe can become the real-life Orgazmo).
There’s an entire scene where Joe and Ben run around town firing the ray gun at random people and watching orgasms take them down. It’s played for laughs, but it feels like watching multiple sexual assaults that the audience is supposed to find hilarious. It’s not so much funny as it is uncomfortable. People may enjoy orgasms, but they’re not always desirable. Orgasms are cool, but only when the people receiving them are consenting.
And then there’s the movie’s climax (I’m sure somebody just snickered), where the evil porn director tries to force the reluctant Joe to do a second Orgazmo movie by kidnapping his girlfriend. The director doesn’t just hold the girlfriend hostage, he plans to force her into one of his porn movies, meaning he’s going to film her being raped on camera. That’s an extremely dark and nauseating turn for a movie that’s supposed to be a sex comedy. It’s pretty gross to watch unfold, and it disrupts the tone of the movie in a very jarring way. It’s supposed to be raunchy, but still humorous. Basically, the movie makes a more mean-spirited leap, but not in a fun way.
While both Orgazmo and South Park contain the vulgar, crude, and revolting humor that Parker and Stone thrive on, there’s a very big difference between the two. Orgazmo lacks the wit, intelligence, and satirical humor that South Park is known for, which is why it’s stayed popular for this long.
Orgazmo is the type of movie that makes you feel bad for having watched it. South Park and Orgazmo were released a month apart. I can’t help but think that clever humor all went into South Park, and there wasn’t enough left over for Orgazmo.