Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Not "how we do it"
Time Warner Cable is trying to render my favorite comedy from last year a lot less funny.
If you really like a movie, you prefer it in unaltered form -- whether that's Spielberg not replacing the guns with walkie-talkies in E.T., or just a line you think works really well the way it is.
But in Time Warner Cable's spot advertising Step Brothers, they've seen it fit to change one of these lines, presumably to get across the humor in a broader, less specific way. The problem is, Step Brothers was already facing an uphill battle against being considered too broad and unspecific. When it transcended those limitations excellently (see it if you don't believe me), it was a victory over our preconceived notions. The pay-per-view spot -- which I don't for a minute assume was actually commissioned by Time Warner, rather, simply aired by them -- undermines all that, and stops the discriminating viewer dead in his/her tracks.
Let's see if you've seen this ad. It features that moment when, in one of the movie's most regrettably famous scenes, John C. Reilly jumps on the upper bunk of a structurally unsound bunk bed, which he and Will Ferrell have just assembled with a delicate combination of two-by-fours and spit. The upper bunk immediately falls (and presumably crushes) a helpless Ferrell below.
For starters, I don't think this is among the 20 best scenes in Step Brothers. However, it does appeal to that middle-of-the-road, "I know what's coming but will still laugh" mentality that presumably sells lots of tickets. So I guess I get why it's considered a moment they want to showcase.
Actually, the film's writing team of Ferrell and Adam McKay make the moment a lot more absurd because of what Reilly says at the time of that ill-fated jump. I'm paraphrasing, but as he takes flight, like an excited six-year-old he spits out: "I forgot to ask you: Do you like guacamole?" Pretty random thing to be asking, right? Funny.
Except in this ad, his dialogue is changed to "This is how we do it!," sung "in the style of" (to use karaoke terminology) Montell Jordan, the artist who recorded and popularized the frivolous hip hop tune "This Is How We Do It" in the mid-1990s. I have to assume Reilly actually sings this song sometime in the movie -- even though I've watched it twice and don't remember that happening -- but it's certainly not during the bed-bounding incident. Oh, and to throw in an extra little something: They follow it with a surprised yelp from Reilly, which I believe also originated in a different scene, if it appears in the film at all.
This may seem like a lot of "column inches" (to use the old newspaper term) to devote to a fairly simple and inoffensive ruse. Trailers are nothing if not compressed, mashed-up versions of films, where information is imparted in a specific sequence not because that's how it unspools in the film, but because that's how it communicates essential details to the viewer in a limited amount of time. I get that. And I understand profanity is sometimes a consideration, as well. When watching Coraline among scads of elementary school kids -- many of whom were too young for the scarier shit in that film -- we saw a trailer for another Ferrell film, Land of the Lost. For the fragile ears of these youngsters, Ferrell's already-signature exclamation "Matt Lauer can suck it!" has been altered to "Matt Lauer can eat it!" The linguists among us can argue whether sucking a dick or eating shit is actually the more scarring image for a six-year-old, especially when "eat it" can also be interpreted as eating a dick. But nonetheless, there's no doubt it was changed to what was considered the less offensive term.
But how does John C. Reilly covering Montell Jordan really improve the bunkbed gag? Answer: It doesn't. It just drives away prospective viewers who are already looking for a reason not to discover one of the best surprises of 2008.
Well, I guess that just means I gotta work a little harder here on The Audient ...