The Dane, the Shaft & the Hollow
Thanks to movies like American Pie and the consumerist juggernaut of the Scream series, the teen sex comedy and/or slasher flick now enjoys a sociocultural importance not seen since the genre was first invented by the ancient Greeks. More importantly, today’s movie teens have proved to be far more annoying than their counterparts of even just a few years ago.
As if to prove the never-stated axiom that the intrepid film critic must be as irritating as the characters he’s reviewing, Afisha’s own Alexei Vasilyev had this to say about SCARY MOVIE:
“As for the jokes, they all deal with genitalia, blow jobs, marijuana, and homosexuality. Some of the performers in this spermic opera look so young you feel as if you’re attending a screening of a snuff film depicting the sexual debasement of teenagers. One negro has his ear plumbed by an erect penis—an object that used to be forbidden from being shown except in certain special theaters. And all of these dicks and butts, according to the authors, are supposed to be funny in and of themselves. But I, for example, have already been living 27 years with the knowledge that I have a penis and anus, but I don’t find them funny. No, of course, they’re funny at times. But for an hour and a half, without a break—this I do not understand and refuse to understand on principle.”
What Alexei fails to realize is that, even though he doesn’t find his privates amusing, everyone else thinks they’re fucking hilarious. Seriously. Anyway, if you run into the mature-before-his-time young Alexei in a bisexual dorkadence club somewhere, be sure to tell him what a funny-looking cock he has. Then kick him square in the nuts. Or at least kick him where they would be if he actually had any.
It’s hard to know what to add about Scary Movie following the relevant excerpt from Mr. Vasilyev’s expert opinion except to point out that’s it’s the Wayans Brothers’ (Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood) answer to the self-aware quasi-ironic teen slasher craze unfortunately ushered in by the success of Scream. This new one may not be as solid as Don’t Be a Menace (for one thing, the timing is on occasion painfully off; on the other, the source material is less rich in satiric potential), but it does have more than its fair share of laugh-out-loud gags. Even some of the more random, one-off jokes are rather clever, such as the brief riff on The Sixth Sense (the non-spoiler part of which you may have seen in the trailer for the film).
Most importantly, the Wayans Brothers have upped the annoying teen ante impressively, with characters that are leagues more exasperating than even American Pie’s more hateful characters at their worst. This, together with the more bodily-fluid-heavy gags, makes Scary Movie a truly unpleasant film to watch. Of course, I use “unpleasant” here in the best possible sense of the word. In short, you’ll laugh, you’ll cringe, and you may even cry. The only real downer is that American Pie sexpot Shannon Elizabeth already appears to be past her prime and looks rather crusty here. But as that fat old toilet trader said in Withnail & I, there can be no true beauty without decay.
For yet another “scary” movie starring teens and/or young adults that’s not, look no further than BLAIR WITCH PROJECT 2: BOOK OF SHADOWS, the inevitable bigger-budget sequel to the hideously overrated and not-nearly-reviled-enough Blair Witch Project.
Lacking even the potentially clever structural and technical conceits of its predecessor, this one contents itself with being a fairly run of the mill slice-and-dice fest that’s just self-aware enough to pass muster with dot-com twits who are too busy worry about their stocks to notice the difference or even care very much about it. Even the mush-brained makers of the original Blair had the sense to stay away from this mess. Rest assured, though, that the lifeless hack they got to replace the original directors had the good sense to keep the level of execution suitably low.
Perhaps the best indicator of how bad this movie is: less than a month after the American premiere, it’s already being shown all over the world (even here in Moscow). Why? Because the producers managed to cut an unusually sweet deal on the overseas distribution rights based on the success of the original, and they need to rack up some major box office before the abysmal word-of-mouth that is already conventional wisdom in the United States makes its way to the rest of the world.
But until it does (and probably for some time after), any number of innocent Europeans will find themselves watching this, perhaps even convincing themselves that they like it more than the original. Whatever.
This leaves us with ROAD TRIP, an uneven collegiate flick that tries gamely (occasionally with some degree of success) to up the gross-out ante of the Farrelly Brothers’ There’s Something About Mary and Me, Myself & Irene.
As with Scary Movie (see above), the main problem here is uneven (which, frankly, is being very generous) execution and frequently bad timing. Both, of course, are fairly important to the overall success of a comedy.
But I digress. There are just enough over-the-top gags that work to make you laugh out loud while you’re simultaneously physically disgusted by the shit that’s going on. And while roughly 50 percent of the main characters are quite annoying at least 50 percent of the time, the other 50 percent (especially that guy who played Stiffler in American Pie, who now appears to be well on his way to making a successful career playing the improbably endearing lacrosse-playing fratboy jerk) are at least sympathetic enough not to make you want to throw yourself from the nearest window. This is no small matter, especially for those viewers suffering from more-severe-than-average bipolar disorders.
As a Big Red alumnus, however, I cannot fail to express a certain disappointment at the near-use of Cornell as the film’s collegiate setting. Presumably for legal reasons, the college here is called Ithaca University (reminiscent of the non-mention of Yale in the disappointing Ivy League secret-society thriller The Skulls). It’s highly doubtful that the filmmakers were seeking to reference the little-known Ithaca College (home to perhaps the worst college radio station in the country), and anyway Ithaca, New York, has no southern-looking winding rivers of the type shown in this particular movie. People who make films set at Harvard can’t get away with such inaccuracies, but second-tier Ivy grads have long grown accustomed to such affronts. Even now, I clearly recall the insulting mention of my alma mater in Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything (which we can now, following High Fidelity, identify as the beginning of the end for John Cusack), where the rah-rah high school salutatorian tells valedictorian Ione Skye that she never would have gotten into Cornell if it weren’t for the supposedly intense academic rivalry between the two. In fact, this is quite a silly statement. It is common knowledge that dimwitted jock types with poor grades often get mysteriously accepted to Cornell and other second-tier Ivies (and even still, they rarely manage to beat Princeton in basketball). I’d tell you the story of the third-string punter who lived on my floor freshman year and was booted from campus housing after allegedly committing date rape, but alas the hour is growing late. But no doubt if you’re truly interested in it, you can find a reasonably accurate account somewhere on the Internet.
And remwember: Work hard and stay in school.