Bio-Dome (1996)
Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 08:31AM
Ian Simmons in Bio-Dome (1996)

"They're a symbol of everything wrong with this world. They don't care. They don't matter."

--Dr. Noah Faulkner, Bio-Dome

Until last Sunday, I'd never seen a Pauly Shore movie. Sad but true. Not Encino Man, not Son in Law, not In the Army Now. I'm more familiar with "The Weasel" than perhaps I should be: one of my art school instructors got pranked by Shore in an MTV segment. And for a brief time, I shared a two-flat with Shore's brother and sister-in-law. What does this have to do with Bio-Dome? About as much as Bio-Dome has to do with actual filmmaking.

The picture is a mid-90s puzzlement, a "Who is This For?" endurance test that feels like it came out five minutes past the era on which it was cashing in. Shore was 28 years old in 1996--at least half a decade beyond the sell-by date this "college slacker" role calls for. His partner in crime here is Stephen Baldwin who, not even a year before, enjoyed a breakout role as the suave schemer McManus in The Usual Suspects. Here, he plays a stoner sub-Beavis whose mutant power involves matching fart smells to their food of origin.* Think of the era's great slacker-uprising pictures: Airheads, Empire Records, and Reality Bites. Bio-Dome is like the fake movie the characters in those movies would watch as ironic commentaries on the kinds of movies in which they appeared.

Onto the plot. Part conservation message-movie, part Real Genius tribute, and part Mallrats remake, Bio-Dome finds two aimless dudes getting dumped by their girlfriends,** and wandering into a desert research facility. The eponymous bubble is a sealed environment meant to replicate Earth's atmosphere in the event of widespread natural disaster or interplanetary travel. Led by stuffy science-man Dr. Noah Faulkner (a gleeful and be-mulleted William Atherton), the small team of brainiacs must survive a year inside. Hey! Guess who they discover just as the mega-heavy doors close! That's right, buuUUuudy!

From here, Bio-Dome takes a break from being a movie and spends a good half-hour presenting us with wacky Shore-and-Baldwin skits. They put the (shockingly inappropriate) moves on hottie scientists Kylie Minogue and Dara Tomanovich. They raid the facility's junk-food-stocked pantry. They use Bio-Dome's rain-generating tank as a hot tub. In the tradition of all such comedies, the guys eventually realize they have to straighten up in order to save...something or other, and become lovable heroes/babe-magnets. The dysfunction of Jason Bloom's direction may have something to do with the aimlessness of Kip Koenig and Scott Marcano's screenplay: Dr. Faulkner certainly isn't set up as a villain, but by film's end he's a bomb-making maniac set on (mini) world domination.

Thank God for the late, great Taylor Negron. As the creepy father-in-law of Shore's ex-girlfriend, the beloved character actor brings the same grouchy, proto-hipster wit to Bio-Dome as he did to movies like Better Off Dead and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Had the writers swapped him out for Shore and Baldwin (or at least Shore), the film might have been a biting commentary about the war between environmentalists and those too comfy to care. Instead, the anti-heroes are so detached from reality that they're only good as joke fodder; not what anyone could describe as vessels for empathy or forward story momentum.

Here's where I confess to loving parts of Bio-Dome. Yes, Shore and Baldwin's "characters" are intolerably juvenile (and rather mean), but some of their antics are such non-sequiturs that I couldn't help from sometimes laughing hysterically. Maybe it's my innate love for slobs-versus-snobs comedies, but you can find great joy in watching Atherton get fist-clenchingly furious at two dopes who think nothing of smoking cigarettes in an air-tight environment. And the flashback to the guys' (I guess) real college days is not to be missed (two words: Goth Baldwin).

So, where does that leave us on Earth Day, 2015? Well, for those of a certain inclination, you're likely headed to Amazon right now to pick up the newly released Blu-ray edition of the film. I'm not kidding. Nor am I joking when I say that yesterday there were only eight left in stock, at a twenty-dollar price point. Some might call that a waste of money. Not me. I see it as recycling. More accurately, it's preserving a dark moment in mid-90s comedy that we must keep close at hand, lest we return to pumping toxins into our still-gasping cinematic landscape.

*Wait. Was he gasser or gassee? This is gonna drive me crazy.

**One of whom is played by Mallrats' very own Joey Lauren Adams.

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