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Sycophants

Found this on a blog, where the author has a weekly tradition of predicting weekend box-office success:

SUPERHERO MOVIE (2960 theaters). Craig Mazin over at Artful Writer wrote and directed this, which means it’s likely to be more consistent and funnier than “Epic Movie”, “Date Movie” and that ilk. Should do pretty well. $19.3 million.

This is a pretty good blog, for the most part, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with the prediction—I’m just a little distracted by the reasoning. I’ve checked out Artful Writer on occasion, and for the most part Mazin knows his shit—but even as writer-director, he’s not the only guy in charge. Take, for example, two films he’s credited with co-writing: Scary Movie 3 and 4. Co-written by Mazin and longtime Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker collaborator Pat Proft (the fourth also adds even longer-time collaborator Jim Abrahams), directed by David Zucker, each with unusually good casts—and they’re just dreck.

The quality problems stem from a desire to spoof the latest movies…without having any story purposes for doing so. The best Zucker movies took a genre and ran with it. If they could come up with story reasons to add a spoof (such as the Blue Lagoon part of Top Secret! and the Casablanca/Saturday Night Fever flashback in Airplane!), they’d go for it. Now, they’ve given up on trying to find “story reasons”—or even coming up with the lamest possible narrative motivations—and instead settled on Family Guy-style randomness. That may work for a cartoon*, but it’s harder to successfully pull off when you have to contend both with live-action and movie lengths. It’s even harder to pull off when the lack of effort is so evident. To quote from the A.V. Club’s review of Date Movie:

As with the Scary Movie series—of which Date Movie director Aaron Seltzer and co-writer Jason Friedberg are chief perpetrators—the result is a comedy that congratulates its audience for getting references to movies that made over $200 million.

The early Z-A-Z movies didn’t have to be on the cutting-edge of pop culture. Top Secret!—released in 1984 and by far their best movie—spoofs The Great Escape, various popular genres from the ’50s and ’60s (Cold War spy movies, beach movies, musicals, westerns), Elvis, the Beach Boys, to the extent that the overtly modern references (such as the sex machine and Blue Lagoon bit) almost take you out of the homage/spoof of decades-old movies. There has to be a disconnect here. Z-A-Z made some of the all-time great spoof movies, so what’s gone wrong? Boredom with current movies? A studio mandate that they must parody X, Y, and Z top-grossing movies? Considering the TV spots for Superhero Movie devote an unhealthy amount of face time to an already-stale Tom Cruise Scientology video spoof, it’s clear how the studio wants the movies to be seen (and made for that matter): topical and disposal. Will anyone find that parody funny (or even recognizable) a year from now? Two? Ten?

While Mazin shouldn’t shoulder the complete burden for Superhero Movie‘s probable suckitude, he’s not blameless. It’s unsafe to assume, just because you read his blog and he seems pretty sharp, he’ll make the cream of the spoof-movie crop. In fact, Superhero Movie is getting the best reviews since the first Scary Movie, but none of the reviews are effusive, exactly. The bulk of the positive ones spend far too much time explaining that Date Movie, Epic Movie, and Meet the Spartans are so putrid, the marginal quality improvement in Superhero Movie is like a breath of fresh air.

I have nothing but respect for Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot for turning Disney’s lamest ride into a pretty good movie; that doesn’t let them off for the sequels. I love Ken Levine‘s blog, but would that make me assume Mannequin 2: On the Move is worth the time? Back in the olden days, when I used to read misc.writing.screenplays, I admired and valued the wisdom of Bill Martell (a nice antidote to Skip Press, who still trolls that place—yeah, I checked in about a month ago just to see what was doing). In fact, I still check out Martell’s “script secrets” on a regular basis, and I was kicking myself when I started Disappear because his book on writing action screenplays is out of print (and going for something like $95 on Amazon)… And yet, I don’t necessarily see myself running out to rent one of his Cinemax late-night epics starring Shannon Tweed. Unless, well, it’s late at night, and I… Well, you can imagine.

Point being, you can’t put blinders on or accept certain givens just because you respect and value a fellow writer; more often than not, you’ll find yourself saying, “Wow, what a shitty movie… I wonder if the script was better.” You know, like I’ve done with a half-dozen Woody Allen movies over the past decade.

*It doesn’t, a fact many Family Guy fans fail to notice. [Back]

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