It has become a rule that all cinematic categories must now be subjected to their own spoof. The success of the Scary Movie series, in particular, has shown that audiences will turn up for in-jokey, Mad Magazine-style parodies of well-worn genres. So along comes Date Movie, which sets out to skew chick flicks and big screen romances. I actually think this genre is ripe for parody. After all, don’t movies play on our most intimate and personal fantasies of love? The raw material is there for a terrific comedy. This one isn’t it.
Plot does not matter in a comedy such as this one, but here goes anyway. Alyson Hannigan plays Julia Jones, an overweight young woman who dreams of finding her perfect man. Her restaurateur parents – including Eddie Griffin as her father – want her to marry a man who is a Greek/Indian/Chinese/Jewish combination. Instead, she wants to marry Grant Fonckyerdoder (Adam Campbell), a handsome man she meets while waiting tables. After getting “pimped” into shape at a local auto body shop, the newly thin Julia gets together with her man. He, however, has a super-hot ex named Andy (Sophia Monk) who definitely provides Julia with stiff competition for his affections.
There are only two ways for these kinds of spoofs to work. One way is to be sublimely silly and knowing about the source material. Airplane, for instance, took all the familiar elements from disaster flicks and hilariously turned them on their ear. The other way is to make some kind of point about the material that is being made fun of. The Scary Movie films, for better or worse, at least took note of the fact that most horror movie concepts are so silly that they border on comedy anyway.
Date Movie doesn’t hit either of these marks. It is content to do one thing, and one thing only: reference other films. I can imagine that writers Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer sat down in front of their DVD players and watched every romantic comedy (hell, every movie) from the past few years, then made a list of individual moments they could lampoon. Here is a partial list of their targets: Napoleon Dynamite, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Hitch, Sweet Home Alabama, Legally Blonde, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Along Came Polly, Kill Bill, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, When Harry Met Sally, Say Anything, The Wedding Planner, Pretty Woman, Meet the Parents/Meet the Fockers, King Kong, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Wedding Crashers, Dodgeball, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and What Women Want. With all these titles to reference, it’s no wonder that there isn’t time for anything else.
Anyone who has seen a romantic comedy in the last ten years knows that there are all kinds of conventions to poke fun at. In fact, a lot of films in the genre follow a generic blueprint that often makes one picture seem indistinguishable from the other. Date Movie doesn’t care about the conventions, though. It’s idea of being topical is to reference The Wedding Planner by having a Jennifer Lopez look-alike named “Jello” who – get ready for it – has a big butt. (How long do you think it took to come up with that joke?) Even when it does have the chance to skew cliches, Date Movie chickens out. There is a moment where, as in many romantic comedies, the good girl walks in just as the man is being kissed by the bad girl. Amazingly, it plays this scene straight, not even trying to find humor in it.
The whole situation is even worse when you consider that Date Movie runs only an hour and ten minutes, followed by eleven whole additional minutes of outtakes and credits. This inexcusably short running time signals a complete bankruptcy of ideas; they didn’t even have enough material to fill up 90 minutes. It’s almost like the filmmakers ran out of movies to parody, so they just stopped. (Actually, they stop on a particularly desperate note having decided to add a pointless last-minute King Kong spoof.)
To be fair, I laughed three times at Date Movie. There’s a funny scene involving a cat sitting on a toilet, and a humorous riff on the “dance lesson” scene from Hitch. Finally, there’s a moment where Julia reaches into her freezer and pulls out a “Lonely Woman Frozen Dinner.” The packaging shows a forlorn looking lady glumly eating a TV dinner. This last example is the kind of sly humor the film needed a lot more of.
Comedies like this have a certain appeal because they call to mind things we are familiar with. We feel like we’re in on the joke. In this case, the joke is on the audience. Date Movie is very self-congratulatory in the way it mimics other films. The truth, though, is that you’d be much better off watching any of the films it parodies than you would be watching this one.
( 1/2 out of four)
Date Movie is rated PG-13 for continuous crude and sexual humor, including language. The running time is 1 hour and 21 minutes.
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