Date Movie

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 02/17/06 17:28:03

"Shockingly, there are a couple of flaws with this one."
1 stars (Sucks)

There are some movies that need to be seen in a theater in order to be fully appreciated–“King Kong” and “The New World” immediately spring to mind. Other movies may not be worth the full price of a ticket but are perfectly acceptable for the more forgiving environs of cable or home video–I might have felt foolish if I had paid full freight for the likes of “The Pink Panther” but it contains enough entertainment value to make it worth the price of a rental. However, there hasn’t yet been a system developed that could properly deal with the likes of the stridently appalling “Date Movie”–though a septic system comes pretty close. If you encountered it in a theater, you would immediately run from the auditorium to sneak into whatever was playing next door, even if you were watching it in a single-scene auditorium. If you came upon it on home video, you might consider an immediate upgrade to a format that it isn’t yet available on and if it turned up on cable, you’d cancel your subscription and crack out the rabbit ears in order to avoid it. A witless spoof of recent romantic comedies, this is a film so bad that I would willingly sit through every single film that gets lampooned in its entirety without a break rather than endure a second viewing and yes, I say that knowing full well that such a pledge would require me to sit through “Napoleon Dynamite” again.

Like “Airplane!,” “The Naked Gun!” and “Scary Movie” before it, “Date Movie” takes a shotgun approach to its comedy–it throws out dozens of jokes and references to other movies and prays that some of them stick. The vague plot revolves around the comically rocky courtship between ugly-duckling-turned-beautiful-swan Julia (Alyson Hannigan) and bemused British dolt Grant (Adam Campbell) covering the seven days from when they meet to when they marry. (See, the fact that the whole thing happens in about a week or so is one of the funny parts.) Of course, this is just a pretense to throw in bits spoofing any number of date movies, including the likes of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” “Hitch,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “The Wedding Planner,” “What Women Want,” “Say Anything” and the proverbial many more. Apparently, there just haven’t been enough romantic comedies over the years and so the film is forced to stray outside its target for sources of humor by poking fun at “Kill Bill,” “Dodgeball,” “Twin Peaks,” “Meet the Parents,” “The Lord of the Rings”and, most bewildering of all, the krumping documentary “Rize.” When that gets tiresome, the film decides to celebrate the classic comedic tropes by giving us “hilarious” jokes revolving around such unpleasant subject matter as farts, bumfights, enormous zits, hepatitis and that Paris Hilton burger commercial.<

The result is a film that fails so totally in its presumed mission–to make viewers laugh–that it could serve as a textbook example of how not to do a parody film. For starters, the filmmakers don’t seem to have any identifiable stance or opinion towards the films they are skewering. When the ZAZ team made the still-brilliant “Airplane!,” they took enough care in crafting a film that mercilessly mocked the films of its time–specifically the cheesy disaster films of the 1970's–in a direct and specific manner and yet did so with jokes that were broad enough so that they would remain funny to audiences a quarter-century removed from the likes of the “Airport” movies. “Date Movie,” by comparison, belongs to the contemporary school of parody (and from the looks of too many recent spoofs, it must be a remedial school) that suggests if you just restage a scene from a recent movie with wackier performers and perhaps a fart joke or two, it will earn laughs from slack-jawed cretins who will look at them and say “Hey, that is like the part in (insert infinitely better film title here)–I get it!” As a result, we get a scene inspired by “Hitch” that is virtually indistinguishable from the original except that the Will Smith character is played here by a black midget. Later, there is a moment goofing on “The Wedding Planner” featuring a character named Jello (get it?) who has a behind slightly larger than her predecessor. This wouldn’t be so bad if the scenes had something to say about the films they were mocking but they come off more like the rejects from an especially smutty junior-high talent show.

Even when the film comes across a seemingly foolproof joke, it doesn’t know what to do with it. There is a moment inspired by one of the most famous scenes in the history of date movies–the bit in “Say Anything” in which John Cusack tries to win back Ione Skye (mmmm . . . Ione Skye!) by holding his boom box aloft while playing Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” A classic image and I suspect that you or I could come up with something funny to do inspired by it–maybe his batteries are dying or the only CD he brought along was Lou Reed’s infamously abrasive “Metal Machine Music.” Here, the guy just stands there blasting some dull pop song while people throw things at him while complaining that it is late and that they are trying to watch “Desperate Housewives.”

A bigger flaw is that while the premise of a gross-out spoof of such movies may sound like a good idea in theory, it doesn’t make a lot of sense in practice. First of all, most of the movies lampooned have hardly gone on to become deathless and easily recognizable classics–even if you are Jennifer Lopez, I sincerely doubt that you have given much thought to “The Wedding Planner” in the years since its release–and you begin to wonder why anyone would bother to make fun of them in the first place. (Eventually, the film is reduced to giving hints as to what is being mocked–at the mid-point of a long, unfunny riff of “What Women Want,” we hear a character say, apropos of nothing, “This is like a bad Mel Gibson movie.”) The ones that have gone on to last, such as “When Harry Met Sally” and “Pretty Woman,” are so far back in the relative past that it is likely that most of the target audience–for whom film history begins with “The Phantom Menace”–are going to have no idea of what is supposed to be funny about that guy making funny noises in the restaurant. For that matter, who is the target audience for a film like this. Those with an appreciation for the likes of “Bridget Jones’ Diary” or “Sweet Home Alabama” are unlikely to find themselves in the audience for a gross-out comedy featuring a cat humping a mummified corpse while those who enjoy such things wouldn’t be caught dead watching the films inspiring the humor and will have virtually no frame of reference for the jokes.

In fact, as a public service, I will now provide a brief list of some of the infinite number of things that are funnier than anything on display in “Date Movie.” Feel free to clip and save.

1. Any solo album from Roger Waters.
2. Standing in line at the DMV.
3. Any randomly-selected episode of “Small Wonder”
4. Shooting a lawyer/Republican booster in the face with a shotgun and then mysteriously covering up the incident for nearly 24 hours.
5. Working at the KFC located right next door to PETA’s national headquarters.

The saddest thing about “Date Movie” is that there are actually a few talented people here who appear for no other explainable reason than that they presumably have big mortgages to pay (“The Yuppie Nuremberg Defense,” to quote the infinitely funnier upcoming film “Thank You For Smoking”), though this experience may cause them to once again consider renting. Hannigan, best known for playing the adorable Willow on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” is charming and adorable enough to deserve a shot in a real romantic comedy but while she is clearly has no qualms about doing foolish and silly things for the camera, she is misused so completely that you wind up feeling sorry for her and not her character. (For her sake, I hope that she was at least allowed to keep the fetching yellow jumpsuit she wears during the “Kill Bill” bit.) The usually invaluable Fred Willard makes an appearance and demonstrates that even he can be struck dumb by a script that provides him with nothing of value to work from. There is even a brief appearance at the end by the redoubtable Carmen Electra, in an especially egregious riff on “King Kong,” that seems to exist only to demonstrate that her presence is all but required in a crude spoof such as this–or at least the ones too cheap to meet Pamela Anderson’s quote.

The funniest thing about “Date Movie”–a film that is at least technically supposed to be a comedy–is that the posters are proudly announcing the fact that it was written by two of the six credited writers on “Scary Movie,” though it doesn’t get around to mentioning that neither has had a screenplay produced since. How to explain this, especially since there isn’t a single moment in the film that demonstrates that even a single writer came anywhere near it? My theory is that they decided to use the same idea as the two killers in “Scream”–by having two people working together, each can claim that all the stupid stuff was the fault of the other. Of course, if they wanted such a scheme to work, perhaps they should have remembered to put something in the script that was actually worth taking credit for in the first place.

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