The big surprise about "Meet the Spartans," the new parody film from the makers of "Epic Movie," is that it really is not as bad as it looks. Honestly. It may look like the most atrocious, horrific film of all time but it really isn't. It's just a bad movie, nothing more, nothing less.
The film's primary target is obviously "300," one of last year's greatest pictures. It turns out to be a good choice for the filmmakers, acting as an effective skeleton that allows them to cram in the guts of their film and TV parodies and pop culture references. The list of targets skewered is long and predictable: "American Idol," "Spider-Man 3," "Casino Royale," Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, "Ugly Betty," "Deal or No Deal," YouTube, dance movies "You Got Served" and "Stomp the Yard," "Shrek the Third," "Happy Feet," "Transformers," and "Grand Theft Auto" among many others. Aside from the parodies and pop culture jabs, running gags include virtually nonstop gay jokes, fat jokes, promiscuity jokes (Leonidas's wife, played by Carmen Electra, has slept with just about everyone,) and gross-out jokes, usually involving something nasty exploding all over someone.
I did not laugh once throughout the entire film. I don't know if I even cracked a smile. I kind of just sat there in a strange kind of fascination, not just at what was unfolding on screen but also in the theatre. It would be great to say that the film just isn't funny, that no one was laughing, but that was not the case. There were many, many people - primarily teens and pre-teens - laughing uproariously throughout the entire movie. I was kind of jealous of them. An uncomfortable fact emerges: these movies not only have a market, but a distinct audience who actually enjoys them. We need to remember that. No matter how bad, how dumb, how clichéd, or how predictable a film may be, there are people out there who will love it. Hence the trailer that played before the movie, "Witless Protection," the new Larry the Cable Guy movie.
It's really not fair, though, to look down on those who enjoy "Meet the Spartans"-style comedy. There's a tendency to try and put oneself in a place of superiority over someone who likes these movies. The truth is that everyone has their films and genres of questionable worth. The term is "guilty pleasure" and those who claim not to have any are probably lying. I'll be first in line to defend the stupidity of the "Jackass" franchise or the goriness and exploitation of the "Saw" and "Hostel" series.
The real comedic sin that "Meet the Spartans" commits is not its use of idiot humor. No, we tolerate, accept, and sometimes even enjoy lowbrow humor all the time. The problem is when there's nothing but that kind of humor for 84 minutes straight. You cannot sit at a piano and pound out the same note or the same melody over and over again for an entire symphony. For dumb humor or gross out humor to really work it needs to either be married to something else or really short, like a Saturday Night Live sketch or an online viral video. "American Pie" and "There's Something About Mary" are comedic masterpieces because they combine the gross and the dumb with real romance, great characters, and legitimate commentary on relationships. "South Park" has remained fresh for a decade by blending lowbrow humor with highbrow political and cultural criticism. It's the lesson exemplified by the success of "The Simpsons." The greatest art and entertainment is successful because it's capable of appealing to the most and least sophisticated persons in the audience, sometimes at the same time. "Meet the Spartans" has chosen to limit itself so that it's pretty much only accessible to young teens immersed in television and pop culture.
Nevertheless, I'll conclude on a positive note by conceding three points to the film. First, with as dumb and unfunny as it may be, it's still entirely watch-able and, in the loosest sense of the word, entertaining. It's not a boring film by any means. The jokes may fail one after the other but the directors keep 'em coming. There was also one joke in particular that seemed mildly clever. At one point one of the characters transforms into a robot type creature - a rather dumb "Transformers" parody. The robot then has a YouTube screen which plays the infamous "Leave Britney Alone!" video. Not bad. Finally, there's one piece of perfect, inspired casting, the single truly great idea that the film possesses. Who was chosen to play Xerxes? None other than Ken Davitian, better known as Azamat Bagatov, the guy who engaged Sacha Baron Cohen in a naked wrestling match in 2006's comedy of the year "Borat." If there's any reason to see "Meet the Spartans" then this is it.
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