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There are funny movies and then there are Jason Friedberg/Aaron Seltzer movies. Generally I’m lucky if their films give me the slightest urge to laugh, but as I sat watching their latest attempt at a spoof I came to realize that the two are actually providing movie-goers an incredibly important service. By showing audiences how excruciating, asinine, nauseating, hateful, unbearable, predictable and downright crappy a comedy can be, it makes us appreciate the good comedies that much more.
Obviously someone out there loves their spoof projects (of which there are four: Scary Movie, Date Movie, Epic Movie and now Meet The Spartans) because they make good money at the box office. Or, maybe it’s just the result of brilliant marketing. By seeing all forty-five seconds of slightly amusing material in the trailer, audiences assume the rest of the movie must be pretty funny too, thereby being lured into spending ten dollars on the cinematic equivalent of an enema.
How bad is it? At the theater I had the honor of sitting behind two young teenage guys. I can only assume they are the target audience for the movie since it pushes as far as it can without crossing out of PG-13 territory and banks itself on jokes involving childish homo-eroticism and the word “boobies”. These two teenagers, like myself, spent most of movie yawning or occasionally snickering when the actors managed to do something almost funny. There wasn’t a hearty laugh to be heard through the entire show and, at one point, one of them actually proclaimed in a loud voice “this is stupid”. Normally I abhor people talking out loud during a show, but in this case I was grateful. It needed to be said.
The movie follows the story laid out by last year’s graphic-novel-turned-film, 300. With its highly stylized characters and action sequences, there’s plenty in 300 that could be parodied, but Meet the Spartans seems satisfied to make the easy jokes about the nation being latent homosexuals with painted-on-abs and then spends the rest of the time taking cheap shots at Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and the cast of American Idol (as if that hasn’t already been done to death).
Where it can, the story takes a stab at incorporating other recently released movies, but never once manages to do anything funny or clever with them. Friedberg and Seltzer add references that seem to be there mostly for the sake of having them in there, no matter how stupid the resulting scene becomes. For example, near the end of the movie the Xerxes character, facing defeat, stumbles upon a power cube and transforms himself into a giant robot (which, consequently, has a giant screen on his chest that plays YouTube clips of Chris Crocker wailing over Britney Spears, but that’s a separate failed gag altogether). Xerxes-tron then advances forward but accidentally unplugs himself and dies. Pointless? Yes. Funny? Not really.
In the midst of all of this comes a cast that you can’t help but pity. Carmen Elektra’s performance pretty much sends the solid message “hey, I can’t act to save my life, but if you need someone with big breasts and isn’t ashamed to be hired on that quality alone, I’m your gal”. Diedrich Bader plays his role with a subtle reluctance that suggests he might have signed the contract before reading the script and then regretted it later. And then there’s poor Kevin Sorbo. Are things really this bad for him right now? Did he really need this paycheck to stay afloat?
I have to give Friedberg and Seltzer props for one single moment of comic lucidity. Normally it would have been the least I would have expected from a good spoof movie, but in their case I have to take what I can get. All those over-stylized fight scenes in 300 were ripe for a good parody and one finally happens near the end of the film. Kevin Sorbo (whose presence would have been brilliant if someone competent had been writing/directing) launches into one such slow-motion action sequence where, upon using up the spears on hand, proceeds to turn to other handy weapons including a wet towel which gets the same elegant dance-like treatment as a sword. It made me chuckle, a good feeling that left me wanting to chuckle some more. Alas, the opportunity never came.
At 84 minutes the movie feels short (not that I’m complaining by any means). I suspect there will be hours of material on the DVD that didn’t make it into the final cut; not because the movie couldn’t have been longer, but because it was just too stupid (or offensive) to be included. After the witless and humorless disaster that was Epic Movie I couldn’t conceive how Friedberg and Seltzer could have done worse. Leave it to them to make it happen.