As a big of fan of Judd Apatow's dating back to his work The Ben Stiller Show and Paul Feig's since Freaks & Geeks, I've felt a responsibility to watch their earliest collaboration, Heavyweights. After all, it stars Stiller essentially reprising two of his best sketch show characters, but I have an aversion to kids movies from the 1990s, a decade in which I neither was nor had a kid, so I didn't make it priority. I finally watched it this week with my 11-year-old daughter, and we both enjoyed its spirit and dark turns, even though I can't remember actually laughing very often.
In many ways Heavyweights is just another summer camp movie — in this case, a fat camp that has been commandeered by a maniacal fitness zealot (Stiller) — but its solid cast and a few weird plot turns make it stick out just little above the mediocre middle-ground. It prominently features, of course, a treadmill of fat-gags that veer from amusingly obvious to brazenly offensive, but even at its most crass it is always on the side of the campers, like a Revenge of the Nerds for overweight tweens.
Written by Apatow and director Steven Brill, Heavyweights blandly sends-up summer camp movie conventions — the awkward dance, the climactic rely race against jerk camp — adding a few dark & extravagant twists. the movie's greatest asset is its cast, which includes a young Kenan Thompson and Shaun Weiss, who stand out amongst the campers, alongside Jeffrey Tambor, Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, Allen Covert, Tim Blake Nelson, Leah Lail, and Feig.
Stiller, just two years before There's Something About Mary would make him a major star, is in his comfort zone as the bullying Tony Perkis, who is a mix between his spoof of cult-ish motivational speakers, "Tony Bobbins," and the role he would play 6 years later in Dodgeball, White Goodman. No one does crazy-eyed, sociopathic, man-child creeps like Stiller, and he provides nearly every memorable moment in the movie. He also appears briefly as Tony Perkis, Sr.