Thursday, May 28, 2009

Comparative brilliance


I am not -- repeat, not -- going to see Dance Flick.

It looks stupid. It looks infantile. It looks obvious.

But it also made me breathe a sigh of relief when I first saw the trailer.

Why? Because at least it wasn't another ______ Movie, written by Hollywood's laziest rich hacks, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer.

It's hard to believe I've had a film blog for this long without ranting about Friedberg and Seltzer. But let's go back to the beginning of the story.

In the last decade of the 19th century, there were a pair of siblings known as the Lumiere Brothers ... okay wait, that's too far.

You could say this story begins with the early parody classics, such as Airplane!, The Naked Gun and Top Secret! It was a time when everything was fresh and new, and making fun of things in even the dumbest of ways was funny. The early era of parodies produced its share of duds, sure. Loaded Weapon 1? Wrongfully Accused? Mafia!, originally known as Jane Austen's Mafia? But since we were, as a filmgoing public, still sort of getting to know this form, we took the bad with the good.

The Zucker brothers, Jerry and David, along with their friend Jim Abrahams, were synonymous with these films. So, for that matter, was Leslie Nielsen. But this act began to get pretty long in the tooth by the mid-1990s, and the parody movie crept to the brink of extinction.

That's when, in 2000, Keenen Ivory Wayans came along and took the reins. Wayans was a veteran of parodic films like I'm Gonna Git You Sucka!, but it was the first Scary Movie that delivered him his biggest hit of all time, and made him relevant again after a bunch of ill-conceived action vehicles. He followed that up with the less-well-received Scary Movie 2 before he was summarily ejected from the parody racket and replaced by David Zucker, who directed Scary Movie 3 and 4.

Lest you think this is the story of the power struggle between the Zuckers and the Wayanses, hold on there -- we haven't even met our villains yet. Two of the six writers credited on Scary Movie were Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, who were also both veterans of one of the lesser Leslie Nielsen spoofs, Spy Hard (1996). As the Zuckers and Wayanses fought over the legacy of Scary Movie, Friedberg and Seltzer spun off and were given control of their own movie: Date Movie (2006).

It was vile. It was repulsive. It was cheap. To excerpt my own review: "There's something just plain wrong with this movie, such that viewers will find the words 'torturous' and 'excruciating' entering their mental vocabulary as they watch."

But Date Movie raked in millions. $48 million, to be exact, or two-and-a-half times its budget. Meaning it had a high profitability factor.

And thus spewed forth a string of movies each less clever than the one before it, though only the first one -- Epic Movie (2007) -- was I willing to personally vet. Again excerpting my own review: "The jokes are so brainlessly simple, only by aiming them at the most recent Hollywood releases is there any chance they'd seem fresh -- and even that is quite optimistic. Simply put, this is lowest common denominator filmmaking, produced on a shoestring using actors whose hunger for a paycheck is downright embarrassing." I like to imagine that Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie (both 2008) are even worse, though I am unwilling to find out. I'd prefer just to ball my fists each time I see another pathetic trailer hit the screen, filled with variations on this pathetic joke: Some popular current icon (Britney Spears, the cast of Juno, Iron Man) gets kicked, punched, or crushed by something heavy. So inescapable were Friedberg and Seltzer that their idol, David Zucker, even impersonated them (though it's getting a bit hazy at this point) with Superhero Movie, also in 2008.

It seems strange to say this, but there's something comforting about Dance Flick being back in the hands of a Wayans. Damien Dante, to be exact, with four other Wayanses (including Keenen Ivory) serving as producers, screenwriters and/or performers.

Now, the Wayanses have their own kind of terrible. These are the guys who brought us both White Chicks and Little Man, two of the worst comedies I have seen in the last five years. But at least those movies give you the sense that they're trying something. The jokes may fail, but at least they're failing with soul.

What I hate so much about Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg is that they are utterly content with mailing it in, and the contempt they show their audience feels intentional to the point of spiteful. How can a movie be funny when greed and hateful indifference are informing it? Either that or they really are that unfunny, in which case, it might be worse: a failure of every standard available to Hollywood to measure talent. Literally the only reason for the existence of their films is to make fun of a popular movie that was released at some point in the previous seven months, no matter how little it relates to the parody genre du jour. (Good example: Borat, Snakes on a Plane and Nacho Libre all qualified as "epic movies" simply because they came out while Seltzer and Friedberg were shitting out the script.)

Dance Flick? Well, at least it seems content primarily to spoof dance movies.

1 comment:

Daddy Geek Boy said...

I have a rant that's far too long to go into here about the sad state of parody movies these days. I too saw this trailer and said the same thing as you. That don't make it good though.

Thankfully, the movie didn't do well and the last Friedberg/Seltzer "movie" tanked also. Perhaps this latest trend is finally drying up.