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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


There’s an old saying: “Those who can’t do, teach.” I don’t agree with that sentiment because teachers are one of society’s most valuable assets. I am going to paraphrase the saying, though. Those who can’t make good movies make spoofs of good movies. I’m really starting to believe that. A few short weeks ago, I placed the spoof Date Movie on my list of the ten worst films of 2006. Now here were are again, with the same people making another spoof called Epic Movie that is just as bad as Date Movie and which will undoubtedly make my list of the ten worst films of 2007.

There really is no plot here. Instead, there’s just a group of four characters – Edmund (Kal Penn), Peter (Adam Campbell), Susan (Faune Chambers), and Lucy (Jayma Mays) – who wander aimlessly through a series of scenes designed to parody other films. They start off winning golden tickets to a candy factory, then discover a magical wardrobe which, when passed through, spits them out into the mystical land of Gnarnia. There, they fight the Evil White Bitch (Jennifer Coolidge) because…well, because that’s kind of what happened in The Chronicles of Narnia and isn’t it hilarious that the White Witch has been renamed the White Bitch here?

The parodies of other movies are constant. In addition to Narnia and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, films that get the Epic Movie treatment include: The Da Vinci Code, X-Men, Mission: Impossible 3, Scarface, Superman Returns, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Casino Royale, and Star Wars. Some of the targets are not technically epics: Snakes on a Plane? Talladega Nights? Click? Nacho Libre??? Whose definition of “epic” are we using here? Borat is the funniest comedy of the last ten years – the anti-Epic Movie, if you will - but not what you would define as an epic. Pay real close attention and you’ll also get nods to non-epics Hustle & Flow and Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle.

I would rather see through any of those films again than sit through another lame parody from writers/directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. They seem to believe that merely referencing other movies is an automatic ticket to hilarity. It isn’t. Good parodies come with a point of view. Consider any movie parodied in Mad Magazine. Better yet, consider the original Airplane, which spoofed the conventions and clichés of disaster movies. Now that was funny! Epic Movie has nothing whatsoever to say about the genre it’s making fun of. It just apes other pictures, then does the cinematic equivalent of elbowing you in the ribs to make sure you get the joke: Look, we’re picking on The Da Vinci Code! Now look at this! Doesn’t it remind you of Pirates of the Caribbean? Here’s a guy dressed as Borat! Get it? Get it?

Friedberg and Seltzer might have made a less atrocious movie if they had a good sense of humor, but they don’t. Apparently, they’ve never met a crotch injury or bodily fluid joke they didn’t like. The parodies themselves are flat-out lame, often going for the easy jokes or, just as often, wimping out. To mock Samuel L. Jackson’s famous Snakes on a Plane dialogue (“I’ve had it with these motherf---ing snakes on this motherf---ing plane!”), Epic has a look-alike utter a line that is less profane and, therefore, less funny than the original. Good idea, guys. Be less funny than what you’re ridiculing.

Epic Movie has some jokes that are already outdated, such as one involving singer Lance Bass and his (now ex-) boyfriend. There are also plenty of cheap shots aimed at the likes of Paris Hilton, Kevin Federline, and Nicole Ritchie. These pseudo-celebrities annoy me as much as the next person, but making fun of them is so blatantly obvious that there’s no humor value. It was funnier watching Paris Hilton get killed in a serious horror film like House of Wax than it is watching her doppelganger get killed in this movie.

One also has to wonder about the spoofs of “Cribs” and “Punk’d.” Not only are they not epics, they’re not even movies. Same goes for the parody of “Lazy Sunday,” a “Saturday Night Live” skit that briefly gained internet popularity. Other times, the screenplay is so desperate for laughs that it starts rattling off different movies its cast members were in. When Jennifer Coolidge first appears as the White Bitch, one character references her role in American Pie by exclaiming: “Whoa – Stifler’s mom!” When someone else mentions White Castle, Kal Penn (he of Harold and Kumar fame) says he feels like he’s been there before. If listing the credits of the cast counted as humor, then the Internet Movie Database would be the world’s leading source of laughter.

The Scary Movie series (helmed by other filmmakers) has been more successful at this type of spoof, and I’ve come to believe that the secret weapon is Anna Faris. The actress is a naturally gifted comedian who, over the course of four Scary films, has found endless variations on playing it straight in the midst of incessant wackiness. The four main stars of Epic Movie can’t hold a candle to her. Jayma Mays clearly models her performance on Feris’s work; she shares a slight resemblance to Feris, and she tries to mimic her breathy/ditzy delivery. But like everyone else, Mays thinks she’s being funny, which causes the whole structure to collapse.

There is one good thing - the picture is mercifully short, running only 70 minutes, with another 15 minutes of outtakes and end credits to pad things out to feature length.

I can’t believe that I have written so much about a film that, for all intents and purposes, is completely void of substance. Epic Movie is just bad on so many levels. I’ve always loved parody. It’s too bad that crap like this is what passes for it these days.

( out of four)

Epic Movie is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language and comic violence. The running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes.

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