When Erik Stolhanske with his four bros in the Broken Lizard comedy troupe co-wrote and co-starred in 2001’s low-budget, intentionally dumb police satire “Super Troopers,” he never suspected that it would create a little pop culture phenomenon.
The film was a modest box office success but became a cult hit on DVD. Through home viewing, the film’s bumbling highway patrolmen spawned a fervent capital-F Fanbase. Avid followers watched again and again, memorizing the officers’ goofball antics, like telling a driver who has already parked beside the road to pull over.
If there was anything more absurd than making a film whose chief of police advises his men that “desperation is a stinky cologne,” it would be making a sequel more than 15 years later. So that’s what Stolhanske and his colleagues did.
“Super Troopers 2” opened Friday, the group’s sixth feature and first sequel. It features Rob Lowe, Fred Savage, Lynda Carter and cameos by Minnesota natives Seann William Scott and Marisa Coughlan.
There’s a silly plot involving a border dispute between the United States and Canada. Actually, Stolhanske said, the project had no creative mandate beyond generating laughs and forbidding the cast from reprising their roles heavier than they were the first time.
A Minneapolis native, Stolhanske and the other Lizards recently hosted a local preview screening of the film at St. Louis Park’s Showplace Icon cinema to thank local devotees. Many who attended were contributors to the Indiegogo fundraising campaign that provided the project’s financial base before it was acquired by Fox Searchlight Films. Almost all choked with laughter as the sequel looped back to riffs set up in the first.
It also offered Stolhanske a chance to reconnect with “my Minnesota roots.” His interest in exploring his gift for making people laugh reaches back to his years attending high school in Golden Valley’s Breck School.
“The school was really encouraging to its students to try many different things,” he said. “I studied Chinese and Spanish. I was the captain of the baseball team, and I also liked to lead in plays. It really let you put your toe in things to see what you liked. They put a cape on me and put me on the stage for one of the musicals,” and a performing career began to bloom.
While attending Colgate University in rural upstate New York, he and four like-minded students formed Broken Lizard, a sketch comedy troupe that was well received for mocking sororities, professors and local policemen. After graduating, the team did five years of live comedy in Greenwich Village.
“We enjoyed the camaraderie of it but also the intellectual pursuit of satire,” he said. “I know you might not get it from some of the comedy we did” when their film debuted to largely negative reviews. Roger Ebert said it resembled “a do-it-yourself project, following instructions that omitted a few steps.”
More important than that, “we began building an audience,” he said. The Lizards, settled in New York City, find it easy to stay connected for creative work, writing scripts for film and TV, doing live shows and traveling the road together on tour. Fan feedback on social media and the group’s live performances brought them to understand “people were a little disappointed that we weren’t just those cops,” so the cast pulled on their khaki uniforms one more time, “grew the mustache and put on the Ray-Bans.”
It was on a long stretch of road that the group “began to have this idea about what would an officer do if they had this long stretch of highway with nothing to do, how would they entertain themselves? Because they always have so much power when they pull you over.”
While the film’s humor is based on idiotic premises, Stolhanske said, the police aren’t mocked. In the role of Rabbit, the token sensible man in the freaky troupe, “I always want him to be earnest. I think being from Minnesota, maybe that’s the character I’m closest to.”
Even when their parts are edgier, the actors “always try to play them real. I think that’s why we’ve got a lot of support from the police. They say, ‘We’re like those guys.’
“A couple of the guys have gotten out of tickets by being in the film. I was pulled over in southern Minnesota. It was cold. The cop came up to the car. I said, ‘I played a cop in a movie once.’ He said, ‘Oh, yeah, what movie?’ I said ‘Super Troopers.’ ”
“He said, ‘Oh, great,’ and issued me a ticket. I didn’t get out at all.”