Saturday, January 27, 2007

Friday Night at the Movies

Now that the 2007 Academy Award nominations have been announced, many of the critically acclaimed films that were released late last year are now reaching Charlottesville.

This weekend's movie menu is rich and deep. There is Volver, with Penelope Cruz, at Vinegar Hill. The Regal Downtown has five Oscar-nominated films on its six screens: Babel, The Last King of Scotland, Pan's Labyrinth, Letters from Iwo Jima, and Notes on a Scandal. The Regal Seminole Square features Dreamgirls and The Pursuit of Happyness. And The Queen is at the Carmike.

So what did I choose to spend my $8.75 ticket price on?

I went to see Epic Movie. Or, as Bill the Cat would say, "Thbbbt!"

To tell the truth, with all those heavy dramas in town, I was looking for an easy laugh or two. And that's what I got.

Perhaps I should not be so unkind. Epic Movie has more than a couple of laughs in it. I chuckled several more times than that. Most of the humor is rather subtle, which is odd, because Epic Movie is produced in an ostentatiously over-the-top fashion.

Most of the plot -- such as it is -- hangs on the scaffolding of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. There are four "orphans" named Peter, Susan, Edward, and Lucy who find the magical land of Gnarnia when trying to hide in a mysterious wardrobe. Mayhem ensues.

Epic Movie, like Scary Movie before it (along with its sequels), is a descendant of Airplane! Sadly, each generation of this genre -- using references and allusions to other movies and pop-culture phenomena -- finds itself lacking more and more of Airplane!'s DNA. Nowadays, Family Guy does it better than any of the movies do.

While our four principals are fighting their way to the Gnarnian throne, we get long sequences based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Pirates of the Caribbean. (Does Johnny Depp get extra residuals for being sent up twice in one parody?) There are references to MTV's Cribs, American Pie, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (Kal Penn, who played Kumar, is "Edward" in Epic Movie), even Borat. Snakes on a Plane, Nacho Libre, and the X-Men series also get screen treatment. James Bond and Chewbacca make brief appearances, as does a drunken Mel Gibson.

Most of the people who saw the movie with me are going to go "Wha-?" when they read that last reference. As soon as the credits began, more than 95 percent of the audience left the theatre. (Perhaps they were commenting on the quality of the film, but I don't think so. They were just in a hurry.) Consequently, they missed some of the funniest bits the movie had to offer -- interspersed with the end credits. One of them had a Mel Gibson lookalike in a prison cell with Edward. Another was a complete musical number featuring the Oompa Loompas and Willy Wonka.

To be fair, there are two quite remarkable performances in Epic Movie that deserve noting: Crispin Glover is absolutely creepy as Willy Wonka and Darrell Hammond is absolutely unrecognizable as Captain Jack Swallows. (Johnny Depp must be terrifically inspiring.)

Were I to give the producers the benefit of the doubt, I might suggest that they are serious about their art. This would be demonstrated by some of the more subtle jabs at film conventions in Epic Movie. For instance, there is no attempt to hide the use of stunt doubles (or even dummies) in fight sequences. Displaying the artifice like this is winking at the more alert members of the audience. It is, in itself, an acknowledgement of what the Germans might call "die Hörerschaftkeit," or audience-ness. ("Ha, ha -- we know you're out there! And you paid $8.75 to see this, too!")

Allow me to vent, briefly, about rudeness in the theatre. Would you believe that a woman a few rows behind me actually answered her cell phone about ten minutes before the movie ended!? She carried on a conversation that was audible to the entire theatre. (From what I could gather, she was making plans to meet in the lobby someone who was seeing a movie in a different auditorium.)

So, if you attended the 9:30 p.m. showing of Epic Movie at the Carmike Cinema in Charlottesville on Friday, January 26, and you recognize yourself as the person who talked aloud on her mobile phone -- you deserve to be slapped around and should never show your face in public again. Ever.

Etiquette aside, Epic Movie just does not measure up.


Reel Fanatic said...

This does indeed sound much funnier than I might have expected, but after actually sitting through "Date Movie" and being way too old to be the target audience, I just don't think I can do it again with this one

Tim said...

I don't think the phenomenon you describe with the obvious stunt doubles (a gag recycled from Mel Brooks's Spaceballs, by the way) is properly Horersachaftkeit. It sounds more like what Russian Formalist Viktor Shklovsky would have called "laying bare the device." This is very Brechtian -- and small wonder, since Brecht's theory (like his politics) was mostly imported from the Soviet Union.