Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael-Key are gifted comedic performers, as often evidenced from their often-brilliant sketch comedy show Key & Peele. It was only a matter of time before they made the leap to feature-film players, and Keanu is a suitable springboard for the gents that portends to even better future results. Relying upon mistaken identity bluffs, Peele and Key play a pair of relatively straight-laced men who pretend to be violent gangsters in order to retrieve Peele’s stolen kitten. Fortunately, the movie doesn’t feel like an overextended sketch though it does have its narrative detours that dawdle (a celebrity drug deal is padded out with far too few jokes), running jokes that hold on for a beat too long and then some (the George Michael fascination culminates in a drug sequence that does absolutely nothing), and there are missed opportunities that seem obvious (Key using his new gangster friends to intimidate a man making advances on his wife). Will Forte’s hip-hop loving drug dealer feels like a character nobody knew what to do with, including Forte. What doesn’t disappoint is the natural comic chemistry of its leads as well as the movie’s ability to surprise, zigging rather than zagging, and finding small jokes just as satisfying as larger set pieces. I enjoyed when the guys’ insecurity butted against their bravado, like when Peele is trying to deflect credit for helping his new pal to do some very bad things. The onscreen action is somewhere between the wackier world of 21 Jump Street and the grisly, unfunny world of Pineapple Express but at least the filmmakers realize that an action-comedy still needs to present its action through a comic lens. I was laughing consistently throughout though it was mostly at a chuckle level, if I were to be honest. Keanu is a fairly fun comedy that you can’t help but think could have been more refined during its structureless periods, but then another joke appears and it’s hard to get too upset with the final enterprise. Keanu is funny enough but you sense that a better vehicle is on the horizon for these two gifted comedians. Oh and the cat is powerfully adorable.
Nate’s Grade: B-
With so many dimwitted, half-baked, and often comically inept entries, it’s hard to remember when a spoof movie was actually something to be enjoyed. We’re beyond the era of Airplane and The Naked Gun, but even some of the early Scary Movie films had some merit, and then Walk Hard, Black Dynamite, and Wet Hot American Summer are shining examples of the best the comedy subgenre has to offer. We’ve become used to the Friedberg/Seltzer style of spoof, a machine-gun rattle of pop-culture references with no thought given to comedic instruction, just the soon-to-be-dated reference. With all of that established, I could not hate The Hungover Games. It doesn’t work well enough to recommend, but the joke-to-laugh ratio is higher than I would have thought, with about every one in five jokes landing, a few had me cracking up. Plus there’s actual critical content here, parodying the sources rather than just dull repetition. In the future, the public rises up against Hollywood because we have become sick to death of all their remakes, reboots, and unoriginal crap. And so, the twelve districts of Hollywood genres duke it out for our bloodthirsty entertainment (there’s a Johnny Depp district where even they have Depp fatigue). It’s a sharp contrast to Friedberg/Seltzer’s own inferior spoof, The Starving Games. The pacing is slippery, the content can be questionable, but with lowered expectations, you may be pleasantly surprised, or at least mildly less irritated with the results. The actors onscreen also do credible work, particularly Ben Begley, playing the Ed Helms Hangover role. He has nailed down Helms’ speech patterns, mannerisms, and he even looks like Helms. This guy deserves a better movie. With an R-rating, the film is afforded the opportunity to go weirder and dirtier than the lame brained spoofs from Friedberg/Seltzer, like the Gratuitous Nudity district or when they keep reminding us that Katniss is underage. Look, I haven’t hit my head all of a sudden; this still isn’t a good movie by conventional standards. However, spoof movie standards have gotten so low that The Hungover Games is passable. Again, grading on a curve.
Nate’s Grade: C
I feel like lambasting the duo of Friedberg and Seltzer has gotten to the point of beating a dead horse. I’ve been railing against their misbegotten sense of comedy (really just pointless and soon-to-be-dated pop-culture references) for years, declaring three of their terrible spoof movies as my worst film of that year. There is no love lost between me and these two men, and yet I feel the sense to restrain my ire when it comes to their latest, The Starving Games. It’s another witless comedy caper, this time using the popular Hunger Games series as its skeleton to hang its desperate jokes upon. These guys don’t know what parody is, don’t know the particulars of comedy and how to build and payoff a joke. It’s the same pattern of ineptitude that will never change. Yet while sitting through all 80 laborious minutes of Starving Games, I felt like Friedberg and Seltzer have come to the realization that the end is nigh for their spoof careers. This last movie didn’t get a theatrical release and the production values look chintzy even for them. They used to crank these lousy films out one a year; hell, in 2008 they gave us two. Now they’ve released two in the last five years. Usually they’ll pack a celebrity or, barring that, MadTV alums. Even those are absent. That’s right, even this movie couldn’t snag a MadTV alum or D-list celeb. Perhaps, as I’d long prayed, the public has grown sour on Friedberg and Seltzer’s misunderstanding of comedy and matured enough to realize that pointless references are not the same as parody. In all fairness, I did laugh two times in The Starving Games, both related to Diedrich Bader as President Snowballs. The lead actress, Maiara Walsh, displays a lot of potential. She’s a good comic actress, has a tremendous smile, a memorable face, and sturdy poise to slough through this mess. She deserves a better movie and more opportunities.
At this point, you know what you’re getting with Friedberg and Seltzer, and that’s all you’re going to get. However, I just looked online and discovered they have two movies scheduled for release next year, one a Fast and Furious parody (goody), and the other an honest to God spoof-free straight comedy. I’ll be fascinated to see what these two have to offer when it comes to non-spoof comedy, but their background fills me with equal parts dread and derisive excitement. Hey, it can’t be worse than InAPPropriate Comedy, could it?
Nate’s Grade: D
Far far worse than I was expecting, this is what happens when you expand a 30-second Saturday Night Live sketch to a full-blown movie. MacGruber, a one-joke parody of MacGyver, becomes a one-joke movie. It’s about an inept special agent who has to save the world from a criminal madman (Val Kilmer, why?). The flimsy plot would be acceptable if the movie had any sort of comedic momentum, but the jokes are sloppy and uninspired, often confusing naughtiness with humor. Just because something is brash or raunchy or shocking doesn’t necessarily mean it’s funny. Will Forte, as the title agent, tries too hard with material that doesn’t work hard enough. Villains with naughty sounding names? Sight gags a plenty? This movie makes the Austin Powers franchise look cutting edge. There isn’t enough focus for this to work as parody. MacGruber feels like what a bunch of 12-year-old boys would throw together if left unattended for a weekend with their parent’s credit card. The sketch was never meant to last over a minute by design, so you can expect what 87 more dreary minutes would produce.
Nate’s Grade: D
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
This surprising little gem could have been the third feature in Grindhouse, and it would have been the best movie of the three. This pitch-perfect comedy both celebrates and satirizes blaxploitation movies, but it does so with a raised eyebrow and its tongue-in-cheek, not the wacky spoof antics of I’m Gonna Git you Sucka. Michael Jai White, who also co-wrote the script, is the titular crime fighting, lady-loving, soul brother looking to find some righteous justice and help some orphan kids too. The attention to detail is impressive, from the saturated film stock, to the bare locations, to the choppy edits and film errors, but the film just nails the tone better than Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez managed in their odes to schlock cinema. The movie is consistently hilarious without being too self-conscious with its humor, and White makes a terrific straight man to the proceedings. The music is authentic, jazzy, and hilarious in its own right. There’s one point where the score even narrates what’s happening. Amusing from its first second to its last, with a nunchuk-baring kung-fu Richard Nixon. Black Dynamite is deliberately silly, highly quotable, and terrific entertainment.
Nate’s Grade: A
Being a conservative in Hollywood is like being a gay Republican – tough business. Director David Zucker has a notable history with comedy, having helmed Airplane!, the Naked Gun series, and the back half of the Scary Movies. He says that he converted to conservatism in the wake of 9/11, and Zucker actually wrote and directed a short for the 2004 Republican National Convention that was deemed too edgy for the Grand Old Party. Conservatives have also garnered the reputation for not having the best sense of humor, and Zucker’s An American Carol will do little to change this belief.
Michael Malone (Kevin Farley) is an egotistical, fat, liberal documentary filmmaker whose latest work is titled, “Die You American Pigs.” Catchy, ain’t it? Malone wants to abolish the Fourth of July (would we just skip to July 5th?) and plans to protest a Trace Adkins concert for the troops. A batch of inept Islamic terrorists want to bomb the concert and decide into tricking Malone into assisting their goal. He will score them media passes to get onstage at the concert venue. Following the Charles Dickens’ playbook, Malone is first visited by the spirit of his idol, John F. Kennedy (Chriss Anglin), who horrifies Malone by saying war is sometimes necessary (really, conservatives are trying to reclaim Kennedy?). Three spirits will visit him although he spends almost all of his time with the ghost of General Patton (Kelsey Grammer). The ghostly general takes Malone on a trip to see what the alternative versions of U.S. history had the country avoided war at all costs. Malone stays defiant until he meets up with the Angel of Death (also Trace Adkins, because?) and sees the error of his “America-hating” ways. I don’t want to spoil things too much but the movie ends with an expanded Trace Adkins concert saluting the brave men and women in the armed forces.
Some from the opposing political viewpoints will find An American Carol to be infuriating. To those angry few I say get over it, because this movie is simply too lazy to get angry over. It barely reaches 77 minutes before the credits roll. Zucker and company tend to stretch their canvas too broadly, to the point that they aren’t exaggerating to lampoon but setting up cheap jokes. Michael Malone is fat. Michael Malone smells. Michael Malone falls down. Liberals hate America and want the terrorists to win. It’s so easy to write this material because there’s nothing topical or nuanced or even socially relevant. The movie beats reliable figures of conservative agita. When the movie tries to slam college professors as being dippy hippies brainwashing teens about the insurmountable ills of America, it just gets dumb (those people spend 10-15 years studying in a specialized academic field). There is no teeth to any of this satire because it’s all just recycled caricatures with the wit ground down. There isn’t anything of true satirical substance here. I don’t even get some of the satire, like the ACLU is depicted as a cluster of zombies with briefcases. What does that mean? Needless to say, the skewering of Arabs is mostly cartoonish and offensive. The flick constantly makes fun of the documentary art form, saying they are inferior to “real movies.” Because Michael Moore has an Oscar does that mean that the history of documentary film has to be slandered as being nothing more than transparent propaganda (at an awards ceremony, the top documentary is honored with the “Leni Riefenstahl Award”)? Marginalizing an entire art form seems rash, especially considering that Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 grossed over $220 million worldwide. As of this writing, An American Carol, a “real movie,” has grossed seven million and counting.
The film deals in distasteful absolutes. Every idea is presented crudely in black and white. By the film’s standards, being anti-war and anti-troops are inseparably linked. In my mind, and this might be crazy, but it seems to me that the most pro-troops one could be would be hoping for them all to return home alive and healthy. An American Carol attempts to justify the ongoing War in Iraq, though it conveniently only ever flashes to combat in Afghanistan, the war that a majority of the public agrees with. It makes a case that war is sometimes necessary, though it has to flash back to Hitler and World War II to find a morally justified military engagement that everyone can feel god about. I agree that war is sometimes a reasonable option, but the movie paints all pacifists as wimpy appeasers. George Washington (Jon Voight) even steps in at one point to argue for the necessity of war in reference to the War on Terror. Did the filmmakers forget that Washington spent great expense to keep the nation out of foreign wars in his two terms? Isn’t it also condescending and objectionable to have Washington say freedom of speech is misused when it goes against the government? I think the Founding Fathers would realize the importance of freedom of speech, including offensive speech. Isn’t it also somewhat ironic to use slave-owners as mouthpieces for the merits of freedom? An American Carol says that disagreement is the same as dissent; so refusing to support one’s government blindly during a time of war is traitorous. Criticism is not anti-American. It’s insulting to all rationale human beings. Zucker and crew make their case look just as myopic and dismissive as those they choose to ridicule.
The acting neither hinders nor helps the material. Farley is a game comedian but he cannot do much with such lightweight material. There are several celebrity cameos including James Woods, Dennis Hopper, Bill O’Reilly, Mary Hart, David Alan Grier, Gary Coleman, Leslie Nielsen, Zachary Levi, Kevin Sorbo, and Paris Hilton. When Zucker is calling favors into the likes of Paris Hilton, you know things cannot be solid.
Here’s the problem. It’s harder to satirize from a conservative point of view. Conservatism believes that the status quo is best or that things were better back in the day. Liberalism believes that society can always improve, so a liberal point of view would tweak the present situation in order to call attention to remaining improvements. A conservative point of view would make fun of that possible change. This is the same reason why documentaries, like it or not, typically have a more progressive bent, and it’s because the filmmakers are presenting a case for change or outrage. Why would anyone devote himself or herself for years to create a film that says the world is peachy? Now I’m not saying that conservatism and humor are conflicting concepts, but it just makes it harder to be smarter. Making fun of Good Night, and Good Luck is not trying hard enough. How dare George Clooney make a film about the media cowering and failing to question our elected leaders and have it be applicable to today’s world.
The Zucker gag-a-minute spoof style doesn’t necessarily translate well to political satire. I wasn’t expecting much with An American Carol. When they exploit 9/11, taking Malone to the wreckage of the World Trade Center to make its case, well the movie stops being a satire and just implodes. It hits its tired targets with a sledgehammer. The satire is extremely lazy, the slapstick is dumb, and the movie specializes in being obnoxious, coloring the world in two extremes. This isn’t satire. This is just cheap and petty. Seriously, making fun of Michael Moore is like four years too late. Moore is a figure worthy of satire but the best that the movie can come up with is he’s fat and hates America? That he’s angry because he couldn’t get girls when he was younger and all those studly military recruits did? That’s not satire, that’s just excessive name-calling. An American Carol presents a new low for Zucker and I think even he knows it. On the DVD commentary track, Zucker, co-writer Lewis Friedman (BASEketball), and actor Kevin Farley basically lambaste the final product, often criticizing their own movie. The derisive commentary track is more enjoyable than the film itself.
Nate’s Grade: C-
Writers/directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer couldn’t leave well enough alone. I had become accustomed to these two tainting the beginning of a new year with their deeply unfunny “spoof” movies. In February 2006, they released Date Movie, in January 2007, they released Epic Movie, and in January 2008, they released Meet the Spartans. One cinematic blight wasn’t enough for these two and so, on the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina striking the Gulf Coast, these sultans of suck have unleashed the appropriately titled Disaster Movie.
I won’t even dignify this movie with a plot synopsis. To do so would acknowledge there was at any point a script. They even make fun of Oscar-winning Juno scribe Diablo Cody’s writing. That’s like George W. Bush mocking Barack Obama’s eloquence.
By pacing their horrible comedies a year apart, Friedberg and Seltzer at least have time to gauge what movies have become popular and what pop culture events have stuck in the public consciousness. But Disaster Movie was put on the fast track and was in production before many of the movies it deems worthy of attack were even released. As a result, it seems that the fail twins were watching trailers for upcoming movies and hedging their bets on what would be popular. This explains why they mention movies that made no cultural impact and flopped at the box-office, like Speed Racer and The Love Guru. Seriously, a “funny” reference to a bad Mike Myers movie months after it has opened and closed is, in itself, kind of humorous in how ridiculous and embarrassing this all is. Once again, Friedberg and Seltzer have assembled a highly disposable pop-culture yearbook except this time they took bets on what would be meaningful. Is anyone going to even get a reference to Jumper? How about in a few more months? Yet again Friedberg and Seltzer have assembled a movie that has a built-in expiration date.
As expected, Friedberg and Seltzer apply their shallow level of comedy to the movies caught in their crosshairs. These guys simply don’t understand the difference between reference and parody, and once again they deluge an audience with cheap references to other movies and the reference is designed to be the joke. Just having a character appear as the Hulk isn’t funny. Having a character appear as the Amy Adams character from Enchanted isn’t funny. Friedberg and Seltzer don’t even mock the disaster movies befitting its title, like The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure, or the more recent Day After Tomorrow. The only partially relevant movie they make reference to is Twister because it affords them the opportunity to drop cows on characters (if it’s not funny once, it’s not funny the thousandth time). Disaster Movie cycles through a mix of movies from the fall of 2007 to last summer, including Juno, 10,000 B.C. (a film worthy of parody by smarter people), No Country for Old Men, Sex and the City, Superbad, Beowulf, Wanted, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Prince Caspian (another movie that faded quickly), and others. Friedberg and Seltzer mix in attacks on pop culture figures like Jessica Simpson and Amy Winehouse, simplifying each to a one-joke premise (Amy Winehouse is drunk, never heard that one before). But wait; to prove how in touch they are, Friedberg and Seltzer have used their SECOND SPOOF MOVIE OF THIS YEAR to include jokes about Michael Jackson being a pedophile. Oh my good graces, how do these guys come up with such cutting-edge and timely material in the year 2008?
You want to know how truly terrible Friedberg and Seltzer are as filmmakers? Disaster Movie is the film debut of socialite and tabloid queen Kim Kardashian. This woman is known for one thing and that thing is her thang, namely her posterior. Friedberg and Seltzer fail to make even a single joke about Kardashian’s notable assets. Not only that, from a pure exploitation angle, they even fail to take advantage of Kardashian as a sex object.
To honor Friedberg and Seltzer recycling the same garbage and calling it by a different name, I will stop writing about their newest example of cinematic ineptitude and simply copy and paste sections of my review for this year’s Meet the Spartans. Enjoy my attempt at Mad Libs style film criticism.
“Writer/directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer are, and I do not say this lightly, the worst filmmakers of all time. They are worse than Ed Wood, they are worse than Uwe Boll, they are worse than Harold P. Warren, who wrote and directed the worst movie of all time, Manos: The Hands of Fate, because of a bet that he couldn’t make a movie (I’m fairly certain he still lost). Friedberg and Seltzer are the antithesis to funny. They mock funny, they spit at funny. [DISASTER MOVIE] is their [FOURTH] spoof in three years, or, as I see it, their [FOURTH] miscarriage of comedy.
[DISASTER MOVIE] would be hard-pressed to fit the definition of a movie, no matter how generous you are with the term. True, it is a collection of moving pictures, but surely we must have greater stipulations for our movie going entertainment. The actual flick is only  minutes long, barely a little over an hour, and then it’s crammed with 15 minutes of outtakes and needless extra scenes to be strewn over the credits [INCLUDING AN ALREADY PAINFULLY DATED PARODY OF SARAH SILVERMAN’S SONG “I’M F***ING MATT DMAON,” ALTERED TO PG-13 FRIENDLY LYRICS ABOUT “DATING” MATT DAMON]. I should be more upset by the total transparent laziness to even construct a film of suitable length, but every minute I was spared more of this junk was an act of divine mercy.
Friedberg and Seltzer are not filmmakers but regurgiatators, wildly lampooning anything that they feel approaches their young teen male demographic. [DISASTER MOVIE], like Epic Movie and Date Movie, cannot be classified as a “spoof” because all the film is doing is setting up references and the references are supposed to be the joke. The film is like a meaningless and random scrapbook for the year in pop culture; the film’s only function to pacify total idiots with attention-deprivation issues.
And yet, astoundingly, the movie still feels like it needs to set up its dumb, obvious gags. The film has one [PERSON] point off screen and say, “Look, it’s [HANNAH MONTANA],” and then we cut to [HANNAH MONTANA CRUSHED BY A ROCK]. Why did Friedberg and Seltzer feel the need to name check? It happens again when [A CHARACTER POINTS AND SAYS, “HEY, IT’S ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS”]. I don’t need a handicap for non-obscure pop culture bon mots.
From a production standpoint, this movie looks really cheap. The sets and costumes and props look horrible, like something a high school production would ditch. Just because it reuses the same camera setups as [ANY MOVIE] doesn’t mean it gets any closer to parody. For God’s sake, they couldn’t even come up with puns on character names.
The actors all seem mildly embarrassed and they do nothing with their roles. It’s not their fault the material sucks so deeply, however, it is Electra’s fault for appearing in her [FOURTH!] straight Friedberg-Seltzer spoof fest. The key to a good spoof is to play the damn thing straight. It’s annoying and redundant if the film keeps winking back at the audience.
[DISASTER MOVIE] is pop culture vomit. No, this is worse, this is cinematic diarrhea. It’s watery pop culture discharge masquerading as entertainment. This movie if offensive to anyone that appreciates laughter. This film and its ilk are offensive to mankind. And plus, it’s just not funny people, not in the slightest. There’s no wit here, no comedic payoffs, no running gags (besides gay jokes [AND COWS FALLING ON PEOPLE, HE HE HE]), no thought or upheaval of convention; instead, this movie is a lazy, cheap catalogue of pop culture events. Even at  minutes (really it’s ) this thing drags and feels exhausted long before it bows out. Just as I said in my review of Epic Movie, Friedberg and Seltzer must be stopped at all costs if comedy is to survive.”
In short, don’t see it and punch anyone in the face that ever thinks of seeing Disaster Movie.
Nate’s Grade: F
Writer/directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer are, and I do not say this lightly, the worst filmmakers of all time. They are worse than Ed Wood, they are worse than Uwe Boll, they are worse than Harold P. Warren, who wrote and directed the worst movie of all time, Manos: The Hands of Fate, because of a bet that he couldn’t make a movie (I’m fairly certain he still lost). Friedberg and Seltzer are the antithesis to funny. They mock funny, they spit at funny. Meet the Spartans is their third spoof in three years, or, as I see it, their third miscarriage of comedy.
The plot to 300 is the framework for Friedberg and Seltzer to purge their juvenile gags. King Leonidas (Sean Maguire, who actually used to be a pop singer) leads a band of 13 Spartan warriors, including Hercules‘ Kevin Sorbo, against the mighty army of Xerxes (Ken Davitian). Back at home, Queen Margo (Carmen Electra) must seduce Traitoro (Deidrich Bader).
Meet the Spartans would be hard-pressed to fit the definition of a movie, no matter how generous you are with the term. True, it is a collection of moving pictures, but surely we must have greater stipulations for our movie going entertainment. The actual flick is only 65 minutes long, barely a little over an hour, and then it’s crammed with 15 minutes of outtakes and needless extra scenes to be strewn over the credits. I should be more upset by the total transparent laziness to even construct a film of suitable length, but every minute I was spared more of this junk was an act of divine mercy.
Friedberg and Seltzer are not filmmakers but regurgiatators, wildly lampooning anything that they feel approaches their young teen male demographic. Meet the Spartans, like Epic Movie and Date Movie, cannot be classified as a “spoof” because all the film is doing is setting up references and the references are supposed to be the joke. The film is like a meaningless and random scrapbook for the year in pop culture; the film’s only function to pacify total idiots with attention-deprivation issues. That’s why the movie just continues reciting 2007 movies and 2007 cultural figures endlessly, with no context and no setup or payoff; the payoff is intended to be the reference. So 12-year-old boys can recline in their chairs and think to themselves, “Hey, I remember Spider-Man 3. Hi-larious.” When the fat guy from Borat turned into a Transformer and then hit his TV screen mid section, which played the “Leave Britney alone!” kid … I swear, part of my soul died.
Friedberg and Seltzer have little grasp on he tenets of comedy. Their over reliance on lame pop culture references means that they have set a self-imposed expiration date on their movie. Once time passes this film will serve no purpose other than a crushingly unfunny time capsule. Friedberg and Seltzer think they must be the first ones who poked fun at the homo eroticism in 300. The armada of gay jokes they come up with would be on par with a sixth grade locker room. You want another cutting edge joke? They make a joke about how Angelina Jolie likes to adopt kids. Never heard that one before. Ever. In my life.
There is no such thing as wit when it comes to the comedy black hole. They are simply repeating the plot structure of 300 and throwing in aimless appearances by figures like Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan, and blurred shots of all three’s vaginas. At one point the judging casts from American Idol and America’s Next Top Model appear inexplicably, and then they too get knocked down into the pit of death. I ask this question: had Sylvester Stallone not made another Rocky movie and released it in December 2006, would the figure of Rocky Balboa even appear in this flick? I doubt it. The core audience for these cannibalistic films has such short attention spans that they need their fragile brains stroked, and Meet the Spartans will not challenge them in the slightest.
And yet, astoundingly, the movie still feels like it needs to set up its dumb, obvious gags. The film has one Spartan point off screen and say, “Look, it’s Ghost Rider,” and then we cut to a skeleton biker swinging a chain. Gee, the Ghost Rider movie came out not even a year ago, and the character is rather hard to confuse with, say, Marry Poppins, so why did Friedberg and Seltzer feel the need to name check? It’s even more confusing considering that the audience that would go see Meet the Spartans is likely the same audience that saw Ghost Rider. It happens again when Queen Margo changes into a black Spiderman suit and the narrator assist by saying she’s becoming Venom. I got it with the suit, yeah, because everyone saw Spider-Man 3. I can also recognize Ugly Betty when I see her, thank you useless narrator. I don’t need a handicap for non-obscure pop culture bon mots.
The product placement is also insulting and annoying. At one point the Spartan narrator tells us that the fighters needed to take a break to replenish their electrolytes. We are then treated to quick cuts of the Spartans holding Gatorade bottles until one looks directly into the camera and says, “Gatorade: Is it in you?” I must have missed what the joke was when the film just repeats the advertising slogan word-for-word without any alterations in tone and context. There is also a scene where Xerxes imitates a Dentyne Ice commercial and holds the product up to the camera. What is the purpose of either of these moments? If I wanted to watch commercials verbatim I’d stay at home and tune on QVC.
From a production standpoint, this movie looks really cheap. The sets and costumes and props look horrible, like something a high school production would ditch. Just because it reuses the same camera styles as 300 doesn’t mean it gets any closer to parody. For God’s sake, they couldn’t even come up with puns on character names, the only exception being Traitoro and Sonio, neither of which will induce a chuckle. Most of the non-reference “humor” is either insipid slapstick or a handful of moderately gross scatological jokes, and, oh, yes, lots of gay jokes, because those just get better the more you hear. Tasteless doesn’t always equal funny, and people drinking urine is rarely funny without some extra setup.
The actors all seem mildly embarrassed and they do nothing with their roles. It’s not their fault the material sucks so deeply, however, it is Electra’s fault for appearing in her third straight Friedberg-Seltzer spoof fest. The key to a good spoof is to play the damn thing straight. It’s annoying and redundant if the film keeps winking back at the audience.
Meet the Spartans is pop culture vomit. No, this is worse, this is cinematic diarrhea. It’s watery pop culture discharge masquerading as entertainment. This movie is offensive to anyone that appreciates laughter. This film and its ilk are offensive to mankind. And plus, it’s just not funny people, not in the slightest. There’s no wit here, no comedic payoffs, no running gags (besides gay jokes), no thought or upheaval of convention; instead, this movie is a lazy, cheap catalog of pop culture events from late 2006 to summer 2007. Even at 80 minutes (really it’s 65) this thing drags and feels exhausted long before it bows out. Just as I said in my review of Epic Movie, Friedberg and Seltzer must be stopped at all costs if comedy is to survive.
Nate’s Grade: F
I wish to raise a call to arms to all moviegoers who enjoy real comedy, and by real comedy I mean exactly the opposite of what you’ll find in the abysmal Epic Movie. This latest spoof-fest is depressing to watch because I think of all the good independent movies that could have been bankrolled instead of this garbage, but I also drop my head in sorrow for the fact that a generation of mostly adolescent boys will grow to maturity thinking THIS is comedy.
The movie essentially sets its aims on anything from the year 2006 and it becomes almost like a fawning scrapbook for that year that will be obsolete in a hurry. The story is framed around a group of orphans discovering a hidden portal in a wardrobe that takes them to the wonderful world of Gnaria. The White Bitch (Jennifer Coolidge, who is actually referred to as “Stiffler’s mom” in this) is looking to take total control and… oh God, it hurts me to even recycle the plot summary. Epic Movie is littered with the same slumming celebrity faces like Carmen Electra and Tony Cox. Only Darrell Hammond is slightly amusing in a fairly decent impersonation of a pointlessly used Captain Jack Sparrow.
Let me make this abundantly clear: Epic Movie and its recent ilk do not parody movies or cultural events, they parrot them. They simply recycle references and treat the references as the joke, so just seeing a group of guys dressed like the NASCAR team in Talladega Nights is supposed to be funny. Epic Movie is spawned by the same team that made Date Movie, but at least that unfunny piece of junk at least had some slight semblance of focus. What qualifies as an “epic” movie exactly? Is Borat an epic movie? Is The Da Vinci Code an epic movie? Is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory an epic movie? Is Click and epic movie? Is “epic” an overused term to begin with? Don’t even get me started on the uselessness of attempting to parody Snakes on a Plane especially with a PG-13 rating.
At least I laughed twice, yes twice, during Date Movie, but I never stopped groaning during every minute of this woeful mess. Most of the jokes fall under uninspired slapstick or the scatological. There’s a running gag where the daffy redhead keeps repeating the sassy black girl. No one makes reference to it and it just keeps happening, so I’m expecting some kind of payoff. Nope. It builds to nothing. This movie makes Date Movie look like Annie Hall. I hope those sadly misguided few that find chuckles from Epic Movie will eventually discover that jokes are funnier when there’s setup, when you play against expectation or convention, and that wit does indeed exist in this universe. I pray that these terrible, cannibalistic, aimless spoofs will fade away, or else we may all be left with the disgusting possibility that the future idea of a comedy will be a movie that simply makes references to Epic Movie.
If comedy is to survive these movies must be stopped. I’m not advocating a violent overthrow but I’m certainly not not advocating it.
Nate’s Grade: F