Max Bialystock: Here’s to failure.
Leo Bloom: …To failure.
Drunk: Why, thank you! You’re very kind!
Ironic, isn’t it? Director Mel Brooks’ 1968 feature The Producerspoked fun at the entertainment world, arguing the stupidest shows (in this case, a musical about Adolf Hitler) also end up the most popular. Fast forward to today and Brooks’ hypothesis rings eerily true (see: Akon albums and everything on MTV nowadays). But the brilliant director probably wouldn’t be glad he got it right, because he predicted the dumbing-down which has destroyed the genre he came to master: the spoof.
Last week, Epic Movie, the latest in the line of spoof movies named with the same effort as George Foreman’s sons, opened in theaters across America, dealing another blow to the once-proud genre of spoofs. The nearly star-free flick (unless you count Kumar or Flava Flav as more than E-List celebrities) has an impressive 3% on rating juggernaut Rottentomatoes.com (it was 0% until Entertainment Weekly ruined everything), a feat not even achieved by stinkers like Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties (12%). And Epic Movie is also the number one movie in America, grossing around $19 million its opening weekend. The recent string of subpar spoof films flooding the movie market (including Date Movieand this generation’s version of Police Academy, the Scary Movieseries) signals the death of the spoof film, a genre once defined by bona-fide American comedy classics like Blazing Saddlesor Young Frankenstein.
The public’s brainless consumption of these new, stupider spoof films signals that American culture is stuck in a death walk more aggravating and painful to watch than Barbaro.Ever since the Wayans Brothers set off the nu-spoof era with the original Scary Movie, every subsequent similar movie has followed a similar blueprint: Ignore the plot and load the film with cultural references. Epic Movie is the new crown-jewel of the crap-movie pantheon, a nearly unwatchable hour and a half romp reminding society of all the various media they tried to forget. To say Epic Movie has a plot would be a disservice to anything with even a hint of a tale in it. The Very Hungry Caterpillarcontains a more substantial story than Epic Movie (and more laughs, for that matter). The collection of pop culture vignettes are connected (very loosely, I remind you) by a story based off The Chronicles of Narnia — the Chronicles that C.S. Lewis would have wrote if he wore a popped-collar polo and hit up a kegger four days a week. You know Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Meals? There’s more plot there than Epic Movie. But these movies aren’t known for their sub-Curious Georgelevel plotlines; they are best known for regurgitating characters and themes from popular movies and kicking them in the crotch. I wouldn’t be shocked if I found out the people behind Epic Movie picked the ten highest-grossing films of 2006 (victims include Pirates of the Caribbeanand The Da Vinci Code) and said “Hey, let’s make a movie with this stuff! But instead of Jack Sparrow, we’ll call him Jack Swallow, ’cause it’s another bird AND a sexual innuendo, haha. OK, I gotta go liquefy some kittens, I’ll be back.” But they can’t even do that right, because they also include poorly created parodies of box-office failures like Nacho Libreand Snakes on a Plane (which is already a parody of mindless action flicks). The basic comedic template looks like this:
- Display recognizable movie/TV show/celebrity and change it ever-so-slightly so it becomes mind-numbingly sexual/gross/DMX-like.
- Kumar gets kicked in the balls.
- Have characters breakdance, because that’s always funny.
- A midget gets kicked in the balls.
The film’s only redeeming quality was playing Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous” twice. Timbaland really is resurgent. Oh, they also played “Fergalicious” while Willy Wonka danced around and Oompa-Loompas tortured people. But I was studying the shape of my popcorn, so I missed most of it.
My biggest gripe with Epic Movie (besides making me realize I probably could have done something useful with my hour and a half, like learning guitar or taxidermy or something) is how it doesn’t even try to spoof current things. OK, the Borat joke is at least current (still stupid, though), but Epic Movie also mocks such “hip” trends like “Lazy Sunday” (just missed “Dick in a Box” guys!), Cribsand Ashton Kutcher (has he done anything since pretending to be a serious actor in The Guardian? Please let me know.). Brains? We don’t need no stinkin brains!
Epic Movie shows just how far off the path spoof movies have gone since the day of Spaceballs. Mel Brooks’ films didn’t rely on pop-culture references of the moment, but worked off of the basic elements found in various film genres, and made fun of these tropes relentlessly. Blazing Saddles isn’t a fabulous movie because Sonny and Cher made guest appearances and got hit in the face with a wrench. It’s great because it takes something familiar (the Western) and twists the norms enough to make it hilarious. Blazing Saddles doesn’t just flash a picture of John Wayne on screen and scream “LAUGH,” but rather twists the tropes of the genres enough to be hilarious.
But why do people flock to theses second-rate spoofs?
“They are familiar to them,” Radio/Television/Film professor Jason Betke said. “The things these movies are mocking are clearly obvious to the audience.”
Betke said genres aren’t nearly as powerful as they were when Brooks and other spoof-centric directors released their best works.
“I have a feeling a lot of these [new] movies aren’t creative endeavors,” he said. “They are made for money, and I think that’s fine… These movies make money, and that’s very representative of our culture now. It’s up to individuals to judge if that’s good or bad.”
RTVF sophomore Casey Donohoe said she isn’t at all interested in Epic Movie.
“I never found [those types of movies] funny,” the sophomore said. “It just looks pretty dumb.”
Epic Movie and its ilk are a sign that the spoof film is dead, at least for the moment. The reliance on throwaway pop-culture jokes in these movies cripple them before they even get projected on the screen. What made Mel Brooks and his type of films so good were not cheap references more apt for Family Guy, but rather developed punchlines about genres as a whole.
Donohoe sums up the problem best:
“The quality just isn’t the same anymore.”