I like to think of myself as someone who is in touch with pop culture. As the alcoholic/talentless hack Ned Bitters pointed out in his diatribe yesterday, my columns are usually sprinkled with references to modern TV shows and films. I spend an unhealthy amount of time in front of my television and in movie theaters. I enjoy a wide range of cinema, everything from There Will Be Blood to Necessary Roughness.
However, there is one thing I can’t understand about modern cinema – and that is the continued success of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer.
Friedberg and Seltzer are the brains (and I use that term loosely) behind Date Movie, Meet the Spartans and Epic Movie. Their latest “masterpiece,” which opens on Friday, is aptly titled Disaster Movie. They got their start working on the forgotten Leslie Neilson spy parody Spy Hard and the popular Scary Movie franchise. After the success of the Scary Movie films, they began producing and directing their own projects.
While Friedberg and Seltzer’s solo projects haven’t come close to the $49.7 million Scary Movie 3 made opening weekend, they have had some box office success. Date Movie, Meet the Spartans and Epic Movie all made at least $18 million opening weekend (both Epic Movie and Meet the Spartans were number one at the box office the week they came out). Since the films have relatively small budgets, they end up being cash cows, which is why they continue to get made.
Even though their films aren’t exactly earning Dark Knight money, I still can’t figure out the secret to Friedberg and Seltzer’s success. Why do their films continue to thrive when a film like The Rocker (which is a paint-by-numbers generic rock comedy that I would happily watch over their catalog any day) made only $2.8 million in its debut last weekend?
It’s not that I don’t understand the appeal of parody movies. I thoroughly enjoy all of Christopher Guest’s mockumentary films like This Is Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind and Best in Show. I consider Airplane and The Naked Gun to be classic comedies. I really liked the first Austin Powers movie and even enjoyed Walk Hard, though that movie completely fell apart halfway through.
While I enjoy parody films, I simply can’t get into the movies that Friedberg and Seltzer are making (I’m getting tired of typing out their names, from now on, let’s just call them “Seltzberg”). A true parody film should poke fun at its intended subject, but should still have a coherent plot and characters that you are emotionally invested in. Seltzberg’s films seem to be an incoherent hodgepodge of film and pop culture references loosely tied together by a plot that serves only to set up the next gag.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the trailer.
The trailer for the film starts out logically enough – the announcer with the deep voice asks who will save us when our world is threatened and our lives are at risk. That’s a solid setup for a disaster movie parody.
But then, the trailer shows us Iron Man getting crushed by a cow, Hannah Montana getting crushed by a meteor, The Incredible Hulk getting de-pansed, the Enchanted princess getting hit by a cab, Hancock hitting his head on a lamppost and a drag queen dressed as Sarah Jessica Parker squaring off with Juno.
None of the films parodied in the trailer are actually disaster movie. Most of them are superhero movies and even though none of the superheroes featured actually take on a natural disaster in their films, I guess I can understand how someone could incorporate a superhero into a disaster movie. However, references to Enchanted, Juno and Sex and the City are just confusing. (Unless you are counting Sarah Jessica Parker’s wardrobe as a disaster – am I right, ladies?)
On top of that, every single one of those clips is basically the same thing – violence befalls character from popular movie. Seltzberg isn’t actually spoofing these films (unless you want to give them credit for poking fun at the fact that The Incredible Hulk‘s pants somehow always remain on when he transforms from Bruce Banner, even though the rest of his clothes rip off). Honestly, they just seem to be going, “Hey, remember that popular character from this year’s summer blockbuster – here’s what it would look like if he got hit in the nuts.” Instead of actually coming up with a punchline, they are relying on the cheap pop they will get for using a character everyone recognizes.
In the South Park episode “Cartoon Wars,” it was revealed that Family Guy is actually written by manatees who grab idea balls that say things like “Mexico,” “Gary Coleman” and “date” and send them down a tube. Those ideas then become the set up for the next scene in the show. While most of us watched this episode of South Park and laughed, I feel like Seltzberg went out and purchased manatees.
What is it about these films that people enjoy? What keeps them coming back? Why spend $10 to go see a bunch of fictional characters get crushed by objects when you can go surf YouTube for a half an hour and see real people smash into real things for free? These films are basically nothing more than predictable Jay Leno-style jokes meshed with the best parts of America’s Funniest Home Videos. And by the time the movie hits the theater, all of their pop culture references seem dated, which isn’t good since those references are all these films have going for them.
And don’t try to convince me that you like the films “ironically” because I’m not buying it. Look, I thoroughly enjoyed Snakes on a Plane and Wicker Man for their “it’s-so-bad-it’s-good” charm, but even those movies look like Citizen Kane next to Disaster Movie. That’s why those films can get actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Nicholas Cage instead of people like Carmen Electra and Kim Kardashian.
So please do me a favor, movie-going public, and sit this one out. Just this once, let’s not give this film that $18 or $19 million it will inevitably earn. Go read Perez Hilton or DListed instead, their pop culture references are much more current and are updated constantly. Or, if you are heading out to the movies this weekend, go see The Dark Knight again so that it can beat Titanic‘s box office record. Just please don’t see Disaster Movie.
Let’s send a message to Seltzberg that you are tired of lazy writing and predictable jokes. They’ve had their time in the spotlight; it’s time to give another pair of shitty writers their 15 minutes.
Please – if you won’t do it for me, do it for the manatees.
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Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.