Tag Archives: comedy

Less Funny Than Actually Being Murdered by Persians

15 Mar

"This... is... PARTA the reason why comedies don't win Oscars"

One of the promos for Meet the Spartans says, ‘The 300 had it coming’. That much is very true. Frank Miller’s original testosterone fest took itself so seriously and was so wrapped up in its own computer-generated awesomeness that it was aching for some well-aimed ridicule. Unfortunately, the spoof version not only fails dismally in almost every way to aim its ridicule well, but it’s also used up the universe’s one chance to do so. We’ll never see anyone dare to spoof on The 300 ever again, and someone deserves a punch in the airbrushed abs for that.

I have to confess that I only managed to sit blinking at Meet the Spartans for the first half-an-hour. (Our broadcaster had proven to be steadfastly unadaptable yet again, and so there was a short gap before Survivor). The opening 20-25 minutes is apparently the best part of the movie in any case. It received an aggregate score (across all its US reviews) on metacritic.com of 9/100, which feels a little generous. It really is irredeemable.

The reason why I bring this all to your attention is that I found one of the user reviews on metacritic interesting. One viewer — clearly the person that the writer had in mind when he penned the script on the toilet roll in a flurry of cubicle-inspired excitement — gave the movie 10/10. This is not unusual. Any film that gets hurt by the critics will get an over-compensating score from some or other sympath. I was more interested in the reasons that he gave. He says:

Some movies are good and other ones are not. some people don’t like Monty python and some do. Reason why i’m talking about this is you don’t have to like this movie because of it’s kind of humor… i wonder what do you expect from a spoof because i got what i wanted (a stupid movie based on another and making fun of it).

He’s making an argument from genre here, suggesting that the movie’s bad reception has to do with a prejudice against the kind of humour employed by spoof as a genre. On one hand, he has a minor point — these movies are ultra-transparent about what they’re offering, and if you don’t find absurdist cross-references to other media funny, then don’t watch. But on the other hand, he’s so wrong that he deserves to be kicked into a bottomless pit by a shouty man in oh-so-tiny leather underpants.

The problem with Meet the Spartans is not that it is a spoof movie. The problem is that it is an incredibly, breathtakingly soulless spoof movie. The genre admittedly turns up a number of love-it-or-hate-it examples, but there are a host of spoof comedy classics, among which I’d include: Airplane, Top Secret, Loaded Weapon I, and of course the first offerings of the Austin Powers and Shrek franchises (but none of the sequels; Austin Powers II & III are some of the worst films in history). I also have a soft spot for Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (again, not the sequel) but I’ll understand if you disagree. The point is, the allusions that the good exponents of spoof make to other genres tend to be witty, sometimes passing subtle comment or making a sly criticism. The jokes are funny on their own terms, and the characters have life of their own too (the endless take-offs and the horrific caricature-ridden sequels can make us forget how vivid and successful a character Austin Powers was as a 007 parody). Spartans aims much, much lower.

Take for example the scene parodying Leonidas’ slaying of a wild animal in his youth. In Spartans this animal is a big penguin — a dancing penguin — in an obvious reference to the money-spinning animated dancing-penguin movie from the previous year. This is standard spoof fare so far– the joke is set up, waiting for the punchline — but what to do with the reference now that it’s on screen? A good spoof movie would want to take the joke somewhere, adding a twist to it, tying it into the parody. All that Spartans could manage was the mere reinforcement of the source of the original: ‘Hey! He’s got Happy Feet!’

Thank you. Yes. We got that.

Spartans does not fail because it sits within an often-maligned genre. It fails because it is a relentless string of unconnected media references that go little further than aiming at recognition, and that have nothing to say about the movie or the genre they’re supposed to be critiquing. Britney Spears is trashy, Simon Cowell is mean, [joke about genitals]. Even just half and hour of this made me wish for an honourable death. Or really any kind of death.