Viewing Pauly Shore is Dead is akin to having an obnoxious visitor arrive uninvited to a dinner party and witnessing other guests quietly mocking him when he goes to the restroom. Only in this scenario, when the guy returns to the table — in an attempt to sound self-effacing and witty — he makes fun of himself, unknowingly repeating the very jokes the other guests just told. In essence, we already know that Pauly Shore’s career is a joke; in fact it’s one many of us have already laughed at, and it’s not any funnier when the subject of a joke repeats it himself.
The film follows Shore — who wrote, directed, and produced Dead — as he laments his decision to star in a Fox sitcom in the late 1990s (to which he attributes the demise of his career), and chooses, ultimately, to fake his own death. He flashes back to the last several years of his life with the help of literally scores of cameos, most of them from washed-up Hollywood actors themselves — Corey Feldman, Tommy Chong, Kato Kaelin, Dustin Diamond, Jason Mewes — who help narrate Pauly’s fade into pop culture oblivion. In one scene, for instance, Shore loses his home and girlfriend to Carrot Top; in another, a drunken Sean Penn wracks his brain to remember who that MTV guy was who starred in Bio-Dome, one of the few jokes in the film that nearly works.
Shore also manages, somehow, to rope in appearances from several high-profile stars, such as Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Bill Maher (who amusingly moans, after watching Pauly’s Fox sitcom, “God, I hate this country”). A better writer/director than Shore might have made good use of these talents; instead, most of the one-liners sound as though they were delivered hurriedly or even under duress, in one take, possibly at gunpoint (which might have actually been the case). There is also a recurring bit in which Tom Sizemore and Michael Madsen (who make several appearances) are constantly confused with one another, to somewhat humorous effect, but mostly Dead is utterly pointless, as in a scene where we have to watch Pauly whack off to a porn while talking to his mother.
Eventually, Shore — inspired by the ghost of a Sam Kinison sound-alike — scores some pills off of Corey Feldman and a body from the LA County morgue and fakes his own death; as might be expected, all of Hollywood bemoans his loss and attests to his comic genius. The conceit that anyone would actually give a shit if Shore offed himself is the biggest problem with Pauly Shore is Dead; I can’t imagine that his death would do anything but briefly remind us why we couldn’t bear him in the first place. At any rate, Pauly’s secret is revealed and he is imprisoned, which allows for several further cameos, including Tommy Lee, Heidi Fleiss, and Todd Bridges, with whom Shore shares a cell.
Pauly Shore is Dead may very well be the first film I’ve ever seen to turn the axiom, “It’s funny ‘cause it’s true,” on its head. Everything about Shore’s self-mockumentary is depressing as hell precisely because it does ring so true. You’d hope in a movie of this type that Shore could at least stand outside of himself as he delivers the self-immolation, but like Bobcat Goldthwaite (seemingly the only 90s has-been who doesn’t make an appearance in this film), Shore can’t seem to distance himself from his Weasel persona enough to let us know that he’s making fun of a character, and not himself. So, when it’s ultimately revealed that Shore faked his own death, and Chris Rock exclaims, “No Pauly. Fuck you. Stay dead,” it’s not a joke; it’s what we’re really thinking.
Indeed, for Shore to attempt to exploit what little cultural capital he has left as a bygone product of pop culture is not only pathetic, it smacks of a level of desperation generally reserved for the likes of Corey Feldman — who is trying to turn Michael Jackson’s molestation trial into a career comeback — or Debbie (Deborah) Gibson, who seems to believe that posing nude for Playboy will return her to the glory days of “Shake Your Love (Just Can’t Shake Your Love”). In trying to join the party by poking fun at himself, Shore merely reinforces why we found him so grating in the first place. Instead of extricating himself from his old persona, in Pauly Shore is Dead, Shore only reminds us why he’s been relegated to cultural obscurity and fails to make the case for revival.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
Pauly Shore is Dead / Dustin Rowles
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()