Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar MovieReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 03/01/12 18:12:22
With the possible exception of pornography, there is perhaps no film genre that is as difficult to unite audiences behind than comedy. After all, when it comes to things like drama, horror or thrillers, most people tend to be in sync for the most part when it comes to what moves, scares or excites them. A sense of humor, on the other hand, is a weirdly personal thing and what might strike one moviegoer as absolutely hilarious might cause another to sit there in stony silence. Along the same lines, a failed comedy can sometimes be more intriguing, at least in an abstract manner, that a failed drama. When a drama doesn't work--an "Iron Lady" or a "We Need to Talk About Kevin" or such--the experience can be such a soul-sucking drag that you barely have the strength to leave the theater afterwards. However, when a bad comedy--a really dreadful one--comes along, sometimes the gap between the filmmakers clearly assumed to be funny and the grim reality of their wild misconceptions can prove to be fascinating. In some cases, that gap is so wide that their proponents declare them to be masterpieces of the kind of anti-comedy approach that Albert Brooks and Andy Kaufman used to deal with in their stand-up acts to some acclaim and much confusion back in the day. Even something like the Tom Green epic "Freddy Got Fingered" has been hailed in some quarters as a Dadaist masterpiece and while I cannot in clear conscience go along with such an interpretation, I cannot dismiss it either because I have often said the same thing about the equally jaw-dropping "Smokey & the Bandit 3," a work that I am convinced would be hailed as a work of genius on the level of Bunuel if more people took the time to watch it in French.
In other words, I have no problem with bizarre and intentionally obnoxious forms of screen comedy as long they are done correctly--hell, I once braved below-zero temperatures to make it to the first showing of "Cabin Boy," the first (and to date only) big-screen vehicle for Chris Elliott, and still laugh hysterically every time it turns up on cable--and when such things go horribly wrong, I can sometimes find them interesting on a sociological level as a way of exploring and trying to understand what other people find funny even if I do not feel the same. I offer up all of these bonafides on my behalf as a preface to warn you that when I say that the would-be cult comedy "Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie" is one of the most absolutely worthless moviegoing experiences that I have ever endured in my life, I am not merely being cute or deliberately hyperbolic. As an attempt to generate laughs from viewers, it is an unspeakable failure that makes "Bucky Larson" seem like a quintessential Billy Wilder joint by comparison. At the same time, it is so dull, so one-dimensional and so ham-handed in its efforts to inspire laughs with grotesque gross-out humor and mindless stabs at surreality that it isn't even interesting to look at just as an example of a total failure. In other words, it doesn't work either as a good comedy or as a bad one.
For those of you who, out of professional curiosity more than anything else, may be wondering who the hell Tim & Eric are in the first place, they would be Tim Heidecker & Eric Wareheim, a comedy duo known for "Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!," their one-time basic cable comedy show that specialized in sketches centered on either pointless weirdness or even-more-pointless gross-out imagery, a willfully and deliberately crude visual style and the occasional inexplicable guest appearance by a better-known performer with actual talent and comic timing. All of these elements, and so much less, are on display in this film, which opens with the conceit that Tim & Eric have been inexplicably given a billion dollars by the malevolent Schlaaang Corporation to make a movie. Alas, thanks to any number of questionable artistic decisions, such as hiring a Johnny Depp lookalike as the lead in the mistaken belief that he is the actual Depp, they have blown through the entire budget and the resulting film turns out to be only three minutes long as a result. Although most people might consider it to be worth a billion dollars to only have to devote three minutes to a film of theirs, the venerable CEO Tommy Schlaaang (Robert Loggia. . .yes, Robert Loggia) feels somewhat differently and announces that he will have them killed if they don't pay back all the money. In other words, the film does have one character worth rooting for after all.
After an anxious montage of the soul (featuring drugs, prostitutes and penile piercing, all seen in glorious detail), the two are fretting about how to get the money back when they see a commercial from the owner of the Swallow Valley Mall (Will Ferrell in an all-but-inevitable cameo) announcing his need for someone to run the place and suggesting that it could be worth a billion dollars to whoever takes the job. After much screwing around (not to mention one extended bit of masturbation that, once seen, cannot be unseen), the duo finally arrive at the mall and discover it to be a burned out hulk containing a few remaining bizarre storefronts (including such thigh-slappers as a boutique dealing in used toilet paper. . .chuckle, chuckle), an allegedly haunted yogurt stand, a deadly wolf stalking the grounds and a couple of familiar faces (including Will Forte, Zach Galafianakis, Jeff Goldblum and John C. Reilly, the latter proving there are projects out there with fewer laughs than "We Need to Talk About Kevin"). The two then set about the process of turning the mall around, although they find themselves distracted by such things as Tim's romantic obsession with another store owner (Twink Caplan) and Eric's disturbing desire to adopt the son of the owner of the toilet paper store. Meanwhile, Schlaaang and his minions are still on the hunt and after the hilarious sequence in which they torture the duo's mothers for information, they finally track the guys down and set off to kill them and free us all from our collective misery.
Like most films made by people known for sketch comedy, "Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie" isn't so much a straightforward story as it is a collection of skits strung together with plenty of opportunities for flat-out weirdness. This isn't necessarily a bad thing--two of the funniest movies ever made are the Monty Python vehicles "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and "The Life of Brian" and they both pretty much fit that same basic description. The difference, of course, is that the Pythons had the wisdom in both cases to construct strong narrative laundry lines to hang their comedy scenes and the taste to ensure that said scenes were filled with wit, intelligence, satire and all those other things that used to be far more common in the world of screen humor. By comparison, Heidecker & Wareheim (who co-wrote and co-directed the film) have constructed a storyline that makes "Epic Movie" seem like Thomas Pynchon in terms of depth and complexity and then peppers it with jokes that don't even work as individual bits, let alone as a collective whole. Scene after tedious scene drones on and tries to inspire laughs, groans or whatever with gags meant to twist the mind or the gag reflex but just flop around without generating anything other than an intense desire to leave the theater and see anything else. In fact, the closest that the film comes to something resembling an actual laugh (though it never actually achieves that feat) comes right at the beginning during one of the numerous fake announcements preceding the story proper, this one advertising a magical theater chair known as the Super Seat. Granted, this is not especially amusing but those with longer memories and a history with sketch comedy movies will recognize it as a lift of the "Feel-A-Round" sequence from the infinitely funnier "Kentucky Fried Movie" and maybe making that connection will help inspire a smile, not to mention a desire to watch "Kentucky Fried Movie" that they should act on at that exact moment.
From what I have been able to glean, fans of Tim & Eric do apparently exist out there and there is the chance that such people, were they to tear themselves away from their Hacky Sacks and whatnot, may write in to accuse me of being an old fogey who just doesn't get their specialized brand of comedy. To those people, I would like to briefly discuss what is by far the low point in a film that is essentially one extended crater. (To everyone else, I suggest bowing out for the remainder of the paragraph. especially if you are currently eating or doing anything that you love and do not want to be forever tainted by association.) This would be the extended sequence in which Tim goes out on a dinner date with the store owner he is crushing on. Because he has suddenly decided that he wants her instead, Eric decides to sabotage the date by giving Tim a dose of alleged Spanish fly that makes him violently ill. Eric nobly steps in and takes over and we are therefore treated to an excruciatingly extended sex scene parody in which the two go at it in a manner that suggest a live-action version of the notorious sex scene from "Team America: World Police," lacking only the wit and raw eroticism. The good news is that there are frequent cutaways from these goings-on. The bad news is that the cutaways find Tim visiting the Shrim Institute, the mall's alternative healing clinic, to cure him and that cure turns out to be nothing less than a group of small boys expelling gallons of diarrhea on him for minutes on end. The entire sequence is enough to make one yearn for the quiet dignity of "The Human Centipede 2" and is so far beyond the pale that I defy any of their fans see the film and then explain to me in a logical and well-reasoned manner why any of this could possibly be considered amusing. My guess is that I will be waiting for quite a while.Next week, Roger Ebert is publishing "A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length: More Movies That Suck," his third book comprised entirely of his most hilariously negative reviews for films that have come out in the last few years. I point this out for two reasons. The first is that he, in what can only be described as an act of kindness or of pure lunacy, has dedicated the book to me as well as my fellow screening room colleagues who gather together between screenings, usually to mock what we have just seen, one-up each other with increasingly arcane trivia and in-jokes and poke fun at each other's most sacredly held opinions (especially if they involve praise for the "Death Race" remake. Needless to say, this is an an incredible honor and one that I am deeply appreciative of (even if I could cite 22 of the essays as being for films that I personally like)--so much so that any snarky comments about his review of "Raising Arizona" are now forever off the table. (Of course, appending my thanks at the end of a review that few will have slogged their way through seems counter-productive at best.) The second is that there are over 200 reviews in the book and with maybe a couple of exceptions, there is not a single one in the book that I wouldn't rather see again right this moment than to spare another thought for "Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie."
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