The Daily Stream: Turn Off Your Brain And Love Brendan Fraser In Encino Man

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Encino Man"

Where You Can Stream It: Tubi

The Pitch: Dave Morgan (Sean Astin) is your average '90s teenager in California. He's not the most popular kid in school, but he's also not the biggest nerd, he's just Dave. Outside of his best friend Stoney (Pauly Shore at his most Pauly Shore), Dave coasts by as just another nobody, but thinks digging an in-ground pool in his backyard will be his ticket to popularity. While digging the foundation, he and Stoney discover a block of ice containing a caveman. The duo store the block in the garage, but much to their surprise, the ice block thaws and the caveman (Brendan Fraser) escapes fully intact, but naturally confused as all hell by 1990s society. Dave and Stoney decide to pass off the caveman as a foreign exchange student named Link, and inadvertently turn him into the most popular guy in school.

Why it's essential viewing

Let's address the wooly mammoth in the room right off the bat — "Encino Man" is not a "good" movie by conventional standards. The plot is ridiculous, the dialogue and fashion is painfully '90s, and this edition of The Daily Stream is not an attempt to pass off this film as a misunderstood "Casablanca" or anything. (That title belongs to "Barb Wire" but I digress.) "Encino Man" is, however, the patron saint of "f*** off" cinema. Now, what do I mean by that? "Encino Man" is not a film from the "so bad it's good" the umbrella that something like "Troll 2" would fall under, it's just a screwball comedy that can be enjoyed with minimal brain power at any time with minimal risk of missing important plot points regardless of your attention span. It's a movie that you can put on in the background while you do other activities or sit on the couch to watch diligently and have a good time regardless.

That's not to say "Encino Man" is devoid of any intellectual value, as the film legitimately does a good job of exploring themes of social conditioning, the politics of popularity, and what it takes to be a genuine friend. Of course, these messages are often missed in favor of quoting Pauly Shore's ridiculous isms, making memes of Matt Wilson (Michael DeLuise) shaking his head, or wheezing the juice. "Encino Man" is remembered as being a "dumb" movie, but Buena Vista Pictures got the last laugh as the film brought in over $40 million at the box office. For context, "Encino Man" brought in more money in 1992 than "Candyman" and "Glengarry Glen Ross," and "The Crying Game."

Brendan Fraser is a superstar

He may have minimal lines due to the whole "he's a caveman" aspect, but Brendan Fraser's physical comedy and commitment to the character indicates precisely why he would become the King of the 1990s. The success of this film hangs on Fraser's performance, and he showcases remarkable emotional complexity in this film. He's got the human labrador retriever style of excitement when learning new things as well as the somber acceptance of realizing as a man from the past, everyone he ever loved has been dead for thousands of years. Everyone remembers his quoting of "The Terminator," but few can recall his desperate attempt not to cry while starting a fire by hand in the Cro-Magnon era of the museum on a field trip.

Dave is our de facto protagonist, but similarly to Patrick Dempsey's Ronnie in "Can't Buy Me Love," he turns into an indefensible a-hole the second he gets a whiff of popularity. Dave doesn't deserve Link, which makes Pauly Shore (sorry, Stoney) the moral compass of the entire movie. Fraser effortlessly keeps the cartoonish film somewhat grounded in reality — no easy task for someone playing a teenage caveman. With Fraser coming back into the limelight and Pauly Shore popping up in Netflix movies, now would be a great time to revisit the long-rumored "Encino Man" sequel. I have no problem admitting I might be the only person on the planet who wants this, but I'm genuinely interested in seeing how a former caveman adjusts to the internet, and if Dave finally grew up and let Robin (Megan Ward) shine.

Embrace time capsule movies

A complaint I see a lot regarding "Encino Man" and films of a similar ilk, is how unapologetically they embrace their current time period. Teen movies are some of the best anthropological resources we have at our disposal, because they're concerned with capturing the culture of the immediacy above all else. Fads come and go, and rather than worry about making a film that will last a legacy, they want to strike while the iron is hot. "Encino Man" is a perfect time capsule of the early 1990s and allows escapist comfort in the process. Sure, not everything from 1992 was super great (like Matt calling Link a "f*g" on the mic at the prom) but that's why it's a time capsule. Sometimes aspects of movies age like a white bread in a humid climate, but sometimes they show us how far we've evolved.

Sometimes it feels really good to just shut off your brain for a few hours and spend some time in a movie world that looks different from your own, and "Encino Man" is the perfect escape. Perhaps it's the pandemic-sparked existential crisis speaking, but the idea of living in a world where you can skip all responsibilities to ride roller coasters backward and the four main food groups are Milk Duds, Sweet Tarts, Corn Nuts, and microwavable mini-mart burritos sounds like heaven on Earth right about now. When it comes to "Encino Man," we're here for a fun time, not a smart time, and we might all be a little bit happier if we let our guards down once in a while and just enjoyed some good ol' fashioned goofy goodness. No one will take away your cinephile membership card, I promise ... buuuuuuuuddy.