Vampires Suck (2010)
I anticipate and dread the arrival of each new spoof from the wretched comedy team of writer/directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. The pair are responsible for some of the worst movies of the modern era, blindly groping for some sort of fleeting pop-culture relevance. I vehemently oppose their idea of what constitutes comedy and I resent that these two nitwits get to keep making their reprehensibly awful spoof movies at the pace of one a year. They may have taken 2009 off but they released two regrettable spoof movies in 2008 (Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie), and those two films tied for the honor of my Worst Film of that year. Think of all the exciting, groundbreaking, eclectic, and challenging independent movies that could be bankrolled with the budget of one of these self-indulgent, disposable, juvenile, pop-culture-saturated comedies. Each new Friedberg/Seltzer movie is like a slap in the face and a reminder that the lowest common denominator rules along with the almighty dollar. So I have an open slot at number one on my annual Worst Movies list for whatever Friedberg/Seltzer slap together. I anticipated that their spoof of the popular Twilight series would be more of the same. Vampires Sucks is another ghastly, failed attempt at parody that goes off the rails early and often, but it’s not as egregious as past Friedberg/Seltzer comedy abortions. It’s not even the worst movie of 2010 I’ve seen this year, which is a complete shock. After careful deliberation, that ignoble honor remains with The Bounty Hunter. I never thought a movie could out-suck a Friedberg/Seltzer suckfest.
The plot pretty much follows the first two Twilight films closely. Becca Crane (Becca Proske) is the new girl in Sporks, Washington (laughing yet?). She’s living back with her father (Diedrich Bader) and looking for a way to fit in. Then along comes Edward Sullen (Matt Lanter) and the two can’t resist each other. He’s a vampire, she’s a moody teen girl, blah blah blah. There’s also Jacob White (Chris Riggi) who turns into a little toy dog instead of a werewolf. He also chases after cats. How can you resist?
There are less throwaway pop-culture references that have a predetermined expiration date soon approaching. Sure, there’s still references to pop-culture figures without any meaning of setup, context, or satire, like half-hearted momentary glances to the Jersey Shore goons, Gossip Girl, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, and an inexplicable reference to Alice in Wonderland. The heroine is seen getting shot by a stray bullet and falling down the rabbit hole. What makes that funny? Is it funny because we recognize the identity of who was shot? Would it therefore not be funny if it was an unknown victim? Wouldn’t it be more amusing if the figure who got clipped was someone who people secretly, or openly, wished would get injured? Does anyone hold such animosity against Alice? But this example also showcases the comedy construction issues that plague Friedberg/Seltzer movies. I just don’t know if these guys understand the fundamentals (fall down = funny) but they haven’t advanced beyond the infantile stage. Take for instance a scene where Edward promises Becca that he won’t ever let anything hurt her. Obviously we know what will happen next and sure enough the roof caves in on her while Edward stands and grimaces. The joke sort of works (I’m feeling charitable) as long as the onslaught of bricks keeps falling on the off camera Becca. But when Friedberg and Seltzer cut to a shot of legs kicking underneath an increasing pile of bricks and hold onto the shot for ten seconds, it kills the gag. Editing choices change the violence from cartoonish to uncomfortable, and realistic violence is rarely funny.
Friedberg and Seltzer litter their script with wandering setups in desperate search for punch lines. Take the line: “We’re just like any normal family, except we never go to sleep and drink blood.” The line is begging for a “like” reference to make a further connection. As is, it’s a setup disguised as a weak punch line, and they’re everywhere in Vampires Sucks. I kept waiting for punch lines that never came. The best example is Bella and her friend leaving a theater that is playing the final Twilight film, Breaking Dawn (unclear which half). They stroll along the theater loudly complaining about the absurd ending and then the Twilight fans waiting outside are upset that the ending has been spoiled for them. This joke stands in direct conflict with the Twilight subculture it intends to satirize. Twilight fans are obsessed about their brand and alliances (Team Edward vs. Team Jacob). And these people would not wait a nano-second to be surprised by plot. They voraciously consume all things Twilight and know every detail. The idea that obsessive Twilight fans would willingly abstain from knowing the ending of the book series is preposterous. This joke does not work at the construction level.
Perhaps the reason why Vampires Sucks feels less scattershot and cannibalistic of pop-culture is because the film spends less time lampooning Twilight and more time replicating them. Many scenes play out in the same fashion as Twilight and New Moon, so you’re left scratching your head and waiting for when something deemed a “joke” in other contexts, though they don’t have the same feel here. What happens is that you end up with a Twilight movie that just ends scenes with people getting subjected to slapstick violence. A rule you can set your watch to: in a Friedberg/Seltzer movie, if a character throws something off screen, it will hit another character in the head or, if recipient of broadside is male, the junk.
Since the Twilight series is so overwrought with teenager hormones and old-fashioned yearning, it practically begs to be mocked. Because it’s so ripe a subject for ridicule every now and then Friedberg and Seltzer stumble upon a mildly effective shot at the goofy, gooey nature of the vampire series. It’s all criticisms that have been well established, including the pre-teen wish-fulfillment angle I’ve touched upon in all three of my personal Twilight reviews. One of the three and a half laughs I gave this movie was a faux alt-rock song by Magicwandos called “Panties” with lyrics like, “I feel so lonely/ Nobody gets me/ I feel so unhappy/ Why can’t I find a cool, alternative boyfriend?” and the chorus, “We can watch Degrassi/ Shop at Hot Topic/ Sexting dirty pics of me in my panties.” It’s pretty one-the-nose and not very nuanced but it got me to laugh, plus it’s a laugh I can credit to the band Magicwandos and not Friedberg and Seltzer. After five movies, Friedberg and Seltzer have made me laugh a total estimate of 8 times. At a combined 410 minutes, that’s .87 laughs per hour.
The lead actress is far, far too good for this movie. Proske delivers a spot-on impersonation of Kristen Stewart’s acting mannerisms, from playing with her hair, to lip biting, to the blink-heavy shifty eyes and mumbled monotone. Proske isn’t given much assistance from Friedberg and Seltzer but she still provides one reason to watch the screen for those painful 80 minutes. It’s too bad she isn’t given anything funny to do or say. It’s a waste of a perfectly good Kristen Stewart impersonation. You may also recognize Ken Jeong (The Hangover) and Dave Foley (Kids in the Hall) and openly wonder why good comedic actors would be duped into a Friedberg/Seltzer production. The answer can only be that of gambling debts. I’m shocked that Carmen Electra is nowhere to be seen, thus breaking her streak of appearances in 4 Friedberg/Seltzer movies.
In the realm of crappy cinema, Vampires Sucks definitely lives up to its lofty title. Yet it’s not the outright creative abomination and entertainment vacuum that was Epic Movie (worst films of 2007), Meet the Spartans, and Disaster Movie. Does that qualify the film as good? Not even close. Relying less on Friedberg and Seltzer’s M.O. of disposable pop-culture references posing as “jokes,” Vampires Sucks manages to suck less by the sheer genius act of laziness. The film doesn’t attempt as many jokes therefore offering fewer opportunities for jokes to die horrible, excruciating deaths. The ratio of comedic failure is still the same depressing level of ineptitude, but less jokes equates to less mind-numbing torture disguised as comedy. It also makes the movie more pointless and an even bigger waste of time than previous Friedberg/Seltzer efforts. It’s the kind of accident that doesn’t even allow for rubbernecking.
I’m finding it hard to as incensed as other Friedberg/Seltzer movies have made me. These guys bring out something virulent from me. Maybe it’s my love of movies and comedy and my distaste for hacks being rewarded for repeated hackwork. Maybe I’m trying to take a final stand against the cultural shift that confuses situation-free pop-culture references as jokes. Whatever the case, the guys are at the top of my cinematic shit list. So you can trust me when I say that Vampires Sucks is easily terrible, poorly conceived, poorly filmed, and with limited aims that it still misses by a mile, but it’s not the abysmal, faith-destroying experiences that the last three Friedberg/Seltzer offerings were. It is simply just bad. Really, really bad. And yet with Friedberg and Seltzer, that is an improvement. It’s all about perspective, people.
Nate’s Grade: D