Epic Movie (2007) (part 1 of 11)
Ah, comedy. It’s so very… funny.
One rainy night in 1980, a small, independent production company named Paramount Pictures released an obscure movie called Airplane!, and a new comedy genre was born: the absurdist, freewheeling, throw-every-joke-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks movie spoof.
Of course, spoofs were nothing new. But Airplane! played more fast and loose with the rules of cinema than any movie that had come before it. For the first time, a comedy didn’t have to make a lick of sense. Characters could change intelligence in an instant. The plot didn’t have to be consistent or satisfying. And reality was a more elastic concept than is usually considered polite.
There have been similar reality-bending spoofs over the decades, but it wasn’t until the success of Scary Movie that the studios realized a film of this nature could make money without actually being good. This is because there exists a contingent of Americans who watch movies based solely on the commercials. People who wait until they’re actually in line at the theater before deciding what to see. This contingent is generally known as “teenage boys”, and as long as the trailer promises them exactly what they want—hot women and fart jokes—a movie can easily make a profit before anyone realizes it’s horrible.
These days, “spoofs” generally consist of an arbitrary collection of scenes copied verbatim from other movies, only on a lesser budget, and with lesser talents involved. All studios really need are filmmakers who can come up with enough references to other, better films to fill up a two-minute trailer. As long as these filmmakers are on time, under budget, and don’t raise too much of a fuss about their “art”, the suits don’t really care what else they do. (And likewise, it seems these filmmakers themselves don’t really care what else they do, either.)
Studios found the perfect candidates in college friends and former shoe store owners Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg. Their first effort, Date Movie, cost Fox $20 million and grossed $85 million worldwide. It also scored 6% on Rotten Tomatoes, but, in general, if you more than quadruple your studio’s money, they let you make another film.
On January 26, 2007, they released Epic Movie. It cost about the same, and grossed $87 million. Most critics agreed with Jason Anderson of the Globe and Mail who said, “[T]his filmmaking team has created a series of spoof movies so feeble, shoddy and unfunny that they may be part of a diabolical, Manchurian Candidate-like plot.”
The problem with Friedberg and Seltzer isn’t that they’re not funny. It’s that they’re aggressively not funny. They write lazily, they steal with impunity, and they take money brazenly. They don’t seem to care if they entertain anybody, so long as they get paid.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on the Epic Movie DVD. In what has to be the most useless commentary track ever, Seltzer and Friedberg completely waste a chance to explain themselves by blathering insanely about nothing: They talk about shooting a scene at the Louvre in miniature, and that a fight scene involving Kal Penn was rendered through stop-motion animation. During an original song about pirates, they say the following, which I swear I am not making up: “The use of no hats here was to show the aliens had see-through scalps.”
The entire DVD package is, in fact, nothing but an exercise in marketing. It’s loaded with “extras” that are neither funny nor enlightening. It’s also, of course, “unrated”. The original version was PG-13 to lure in the kids. And how do you sell a bad movie to a teenager who’s already seen it? Briefly remove the bikinis from several models, extend a barfing scene, and add an alternate soundtrack of nothing but fart noises.
And guess what? Friedberg and Seltzer have done it again. Their latest, Meet the Spartans, recently paid off like a broken and very unfunny slot machine. Sadly, with three hits under their belt, this means that they’ll never stop. So long as there are teenagers with money to waste, they will never stop.
Come with me if you want to live.
This spoof of summer blockbuster fantasy movies starts with an expository crawl. It’s big, gold writing read by some vaguely New England-ish old man. It reads in its entirety: “This is the story of four orphans brought together by fate. They didn’t know it yet, but there was something greater in store for them, something epic.” And that’s it. So already I’m lost. It’s 27 words long. Twenty-seven.
A lot of self-important movies start with ridiculously long expository crawls that should just have been worked into the narrative. Star Wars was 83 words; Casablanca was over a hundred. (I thought about including Alone in the Dark in this list, but I can’t count that high.) If this really is a satire, wouldn’t it seem logical to give us an insanely long opening crawl? Did Seltzer and Friedberg not see the joke? They did not.
The letters then dissolve away, leaving a handful to rearrange themselves Da Vinci Code-like into “Epic Movie”, so not so much a joke, really, as just a thing that sort of reminds you of another thing.
And we’re off, with an exterior shot of the Louvre. Cut to high heels scurrying down a deserted museum hallway. The narrator tells us this is our first orphan, Lucy. I eventually looked it up, and the narrator is famous character actor Roscoe Lee Brown. Sadly, he died in April of 2007, and I don’t even want to contemplate the depressing fact that Epic Movie was his final film.
Roscoe tells us that Lucy was raised by a museum curator who, alas, was murdered. She finds his body splayed out on the floor, wearing only a loincloth, also in Da Vinci Code fashion. They pan over him and we notice that: 1) he has a star carved into his chest, 2) he also has the words “THUG LIFE” carved on his stomach, and 3) he is not dead and, thus, has not been murdered.
And the curator is played by David Carradine. I’d like to say this is where a big chunk of the $20 million budget went, but I’m pretty sure Carradine did the movie for free, just so he could show off his ancient nakedness. And I have to admit, for a seventy year old man, he’s still got it going on. Or, at least, a sufficient amount of “it”.
Now comes a kind of condensed Da Vinci segment where Lucy starts begging Carradine for the code. One of those self-flagellating monks appears to fight her. It’s a confusing edit, and I have no idea where he is in relation to Lucy. He’s an albino, just like in Da Vinci Code, but the joke here is… he’s clearly a black man in white makeup? I’m really asking. Is that the joke?
Black Albino Guy is whipping himself as he says something in Latin and subtitles appear below him. Here’s a surprise: the subtitles don’t actually translate what he’s saying. He says, “Habius corpus. E pluribus unum.” In reality, this means, “Deliver the body. From many, one.” Which is actually cryptic enough to mean something—there’s comedy in there for the right writing team. Unfortunately, it’s translated to us as, “I’m gonna drop you like K-Fed!” So, too bad about that writing team. In other news, K-Fed is now generally recognized as the sane one. Bad guess, stoned movie writing dudes.
Lucy asks Carradine for another clue and then… um… David Carradine gets up, and starts popping and locking. Well, somebody does, in any case. It’s just bizarre. It appears that he’s dancing the clue. And the joke here is that an old man is dancing in a modern style, but it’s obvious that no old man was even on set that day.
The stunt dancer manages to convey the clue “Da Vinci” by forming the letters with his body. They show Lucy for a second, and when they cut back, the dancer has gone back to being David Carradine again. He bows as though taking a curtain call. Did I mention he’s almost naked? He’s also out of the movie for good. So, with a truly bizarre cameo at the beginning of a staggeringly awful film, he has become his father in Red Zone Cuba. Except this movie isn’t nearly as funny.
Lucy rushes over to the Mona Lisa. She shines a regular flashlight on the painting and words fluoresce across it. She reads the painting: “So lame the hair of Tom.” So, the joke is that Tom Hanks’ hair in Da Vinci Code was really terrible. Everybody got that? Just to make sure, they pan over to a portrait of Hanks from that movie, with the bad hair. Everybody got it now? His hair was bad. Comedy gold!
Lucy realizes that “lame” is a seven letter word. She actually says, “‘Lame’ is a seven letter word!” Which I guess is supposed to establish that Lucy is not too bright, except, of course, during the scenes that require her to suddenly become smart.
With Afrobino (still) approaching, she rushes over to a snack machine [?] and pushes the number seven. And I have to admit that the whole code-cracking absurdity is nearly starting to get amusing. Really, did anyone see National Treasure? But just when it starts, that’s where it ends. We’ve cracked the code. Joke over. And really, what better way to show that Lucy is supposed to be a ditz than by having her successfully solve the riddle?
For her trouble, Lucy gets a Wonka Bar out of the vending machine, except here it’s called a “Willy Bar”. See, even though this is a spoof, there really is a candy called the Wonka Bar, and I’m sure the Nestle people wanted no part of product placement in this movie. As a result, I have more respect for Nestle and less, I guess, for Roald Dahl. In any event, Lucy unwraps the candy bar and finds a golden ticket. She reads aloud that the ticket entitles her to go on an “epic adventure”. Harumphh.
Then the following things happen: Lucy breaks her heel, Affirmative Action Monk launches himself at her, she bends down, he flies over her head and crashes into the snack machine, breaking the glass and apparently dispatching himself for her. I’d just like to say that one night in college, my idiot suitemate spent a solid hour trying to break the glass on a snack machine, with the only result being that the campus safety officer told him to knock it off. So movie snack machines don’t seem to be built to reality snack machine standards. I’m just saying.