A film packed to the brim with 90s-isms and a young Pauly Shore / Sean Astin / Brendan Fraser, Encino Man provides more than its fair share of laughs and is a real treat for 90s pop culture junkies like myself.
Opening in a dark, scary, Ice Age world, Encino Man introduces us to a caveman and cave woman who are attempting to make a fire to stay warm. The drama starts early as an earthquake surprises them out of nowhere and buries the two would-be lovers under a mountain of debris.
Fast-forward to modern times, where teenage Dave Morgan (Sean Astin) wakes to a Los Angeles earthquake that rattles a melted cherry Icee off the shelf above him. Dave is the typical effete, whiny adolescent loser who wears denim shirts and strives for nothing more than popularity.
Also in tow is his best friend, Stoney Brown (Pauly Shore), who rides a moped and looks like a cross between a grunge rocker and a filthy hippie with his neon pink handkerchiefs and stoner hair.
This movie could be considered an entry-level class in 90s fashion, as it covers all the basics: denim shirts, denim jackets, a-frame sleeveless shirts, neon pattern shorts, khaki trench coats, hawaiian shirts, chain wallets, cutoff sleeves, Converse All Stars, and much, much more.
Dave, as is always the case in this type of film, has the hots for the beautiful Robyn, a childhood best friend who ditched Dave as soon as she became spank-worthy. Now that she has a jock bully boyfriend named Matt, Dave is finding it harder and harder to get close to her. Matt, as a result of Dave’s advances toward Robyn, constantly insists on embarrassing Dave and making his life a living hell.
To me, Matt is the perfect 90s bully character. He is a cocky douchebag who goes out of his way to intimidate others, he wears straight-legged Levi’s, and he has the haircut of Wayne Static from Static-X. You can’t really get much better than that.
In another pathetic attempt at popularity, Dave decides he is going to dig himself a pool in his backyard and that this, somehow, will make everyone like him. Little more than a dirt hole, Dave and Stoney discover something quite remarkable one day while digging–a chunk of ice with a man’s body inside. Realizing that they may have stumbled upon something that will make them the talk of the town, they brilliantly leave the block of ice unattended in Dave’s garage under a series of heaters.
Upon returning home, Dave and Stoney discover the caveman has run loose in Dave’s house and they find him trying to rub sticks together to start a fire in Dave’s bedroom. After a nice scrub in the bathtub and a quick 90s makeover montage, Dave decides to name the caveman “Link,” as in “the missing link.”
In a genius plan to coverup Link’s true identity, Stoney and Dave convince Dave’s parents that Link is an exchange student from Estonia sent to live with them and experience school in America. The first family dinner with Dave’s parents and Link also affords Stoney the opportunity to utter one of my favorite lines in 90s movie history, as he infers that Mr. Morgan is upset with him for imposing on their family dinner:
“If you’re edged ’cause I’m wheezing on your grindage, just chill ’cause if I had the whole Brady Bunch thing happening at my pad, I’d go grind over there, so don’t tax my gig so hardcore, cruster.”
There is no cooler way to describe what Stoney is trying to explain than with that conglomeration of 90s slang. It is like a nebula of 90s culture hovering in space, inviting excitement, joy, and wonder with its undeniable beauty.
Because of Link’s eclectic behavior, he becomes instantly popular at school and propels Dave and Stoney to the ranks of the social elite by association. This increased popularity allows Dave a chance to get closer to Robyn and further infuriate Matt.
However, the popularity that Link brings with him is a double-edged sword. After a fight at the local skating rink where Link refuses to fight Matt and gains respect for his composure, Robyn starts to develop feelings for Link.
The drama heats up when a bar is busted for serving underage patrons and Dave uses his one phone call to phone Robyn and ask her to the prom. She declines and says that she wants to go with Link instead. Suffice to say, Dave the whiny loser is heartbroken.
He pulls the ultimate dick move by driving Link out to the country like a stray cat and tries to set him free. Knowing of Dave’s jealousy, Stoney confronts him and a small argument leads to a quick resolution as Dave apologizes and decides not to send Link away.
However, rather than trying to have fun and swallow his pride at the prom with Link and Robyn, Dave decides to get even more butt hurt and refuse the invitation.
I never understood this course of action when a woman is not interested in you. It would be far more attractive to show up confidently and proud instead of moping. Also, if she’s stupid enough to take a caveman to prom, do you really want to date her?
It’s only after Dave catches Matt breaking into his bedroom to steal photographs of Link’s caveman body frozen in ice that he gathers to courage to show up at prom and confront him. Matt’s plans to uncover Link as the “freak” that he is falls terribly short, though, as the new revelation only makes people like Link more. Enraged, Matt tries to attack Dave again and gets his ass handed to him by Link.
It is then, and only then, that the most 90s dance party ever breaks out at the prom. Dave and Robyn make up and the three fellas lead the entire prom in a choreographed caveman dance number. My soul smiles just thinking about how amazing this scene is.
When prom is over, everyone heads over to Dave’s house for a dip in his new pool. Dave and Robyn share a heartwarming kiss while Stoney and Link find strange caveman drawings in Dave’s house that are similar to the ones that Link left behind in the beginning of the film. They discover a gorgeous cavewoman who is actually Link’s long-forgotten cave sweetie who had been separated in the aforementioned Ice Age calamity. They share a long-overdue bath while Stoney sits back and watches the magic happen.
While the critics of the time describe this film as sophomoric and nonsensical and gave it an abysmally low rating, I cannot agree with the quickness of their judgement. There’s enough heart, laughs, and 90s nostalgia stuffed into this movie to make any misty-eyed pop culture addict squeal with joy. From the fashion to the music to the choreographed dance scenes, there is nothing quite like watching a caveman in high school to lift your spirits. I would recommend this movie to anyone with an affinity for all things 90s and all things Pauly Shore.
If you’ve never seen this film or always wanted to own it, I recommend you buy it on DVD. It is well worth the $10 investment.