If we had to get licenses to be film critics I'm sure that someone would challenge mine as a result of this review.
You're not supposed to say anything positive about films directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. You're supposed to join in the chorus of how 2006's "Date Movie," 2007's "Epic Movie," and January's "Meet the Spartans" are lepers to be shunned and ridiculed. I never expected what would end up happening, though, with the notorious pair's most recent offering.
I went and saw "Disaster Movie," the latest parody of the last six months' worth of movies and pop culture, with my two teenage siblings. Jeremy is 18 and starting his last year of high school. Natalie is almost 15 and just started her freshman year. They are the film's target audience. When I saw "Meet the Spartans" six months ago I realized that the pop culture references and humor style was all aimed entirely at their generation.
So, making a visit home for Labor Day and Natalie's birthday, I enlisted them to help translate the references that I was a few years to old to grasp. As it turned out I was familiar with almost everything except one sequence when two women started wrestling. I turned to them and asked but neither knew what it was parodying. The directors probably just wanted to have two scantily-clad women wrestling.
The film's plot involves a group of young adults at protagonist Will's (Matt Lanter) Sweet Sixteen Party. Will is actually 25 but it's a Sweet Sixteen Party so that the movie can parody the MTV show. Various low-grade parodies of recent movies make appearances at the party. The guys from "Superbad" try and steal liquor and they get shot at by people trying to twist bullets like in "Wanted." An Anton Chigurh knock-off appears with his stun gun. For some reason Dr. Phil shows up. There's even a musical number satirizing the "High School Musical" films.
Then random disasters start happening and the young people are forced to flee. The group is joined by a Juno parody and later a dim version of the Princess from "Enchanted." Meteors start falling, huge blasts of ice chase them down the street, and tornadoes chuck cows at them. Amidst the chaos they encounter random pop culture figures. They do battle with the Sex and the City girls in one scene. In another they have to deal with some demonic singing chipmunks.
Ultimately the film falls into a parody of "Cloverfield," with the protagonist being forced to wander through the city to rescue his girlfriend at the town's museum. Once they arrive they have to fight such characters as Kung Fu Panda and Beowulf.
In my review of "Meet the Spartans" I described not laughing once. I just kind of sat there in a state of disoriented awe. The film produced a certain mental numbness, what I imagine it would be like when Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo take ether in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." It just blurs the mind into a fuzzy state of confusion.
"Disaster Movie" has some of that but more often than one might expect it actually manages a few laughs. It was great to see Chigurh show up and pop someone in the head. Also the "Juno" send-up is half-way decent when they tweak Diablo Cody's too-smart-to-be-real, Generation-Y dialogue.
The film is also a treat in that it's kind of fun to sit there and be surprised with which cheap, bastardized pop culture character will show up next. There's a certain entertainment value in the sheer randomness of it all.
By now a rather uncomfortable fact should be apparent to critics. Friedberg and Seltzer are auteurs. They've developed a style and a series of motifs that go from film to film. Who said that we should only consider Alfred Hitchcock or Jean-Luc Godard films in the context of the director-as-author sense? Why not the bad filmmakers as well? It's certainly a way to learn how to survive and appreciate mediocre cinema when it can't be avoided.
What the Seltzer-Friedberg comedies basically are is someone drinking way too much pop culture, getting sick, and vomiting it up all over you. It's dumb and it's disgusting. A lot of people are going to say that it's not funny to see someone puke all over someone else, even less so if they're the one on the receiving end. I'll stake my critic's license on disagreeing. It may be juvenile, it may be primitive, but if I'm laughing then it's comedy.
Watching "Disaster Movie" was almost reminiscent of a low-budget parody made by high school or college film geeks. That's not necessarily a criticism so much as a description. The film runs into the same problem as "Star Wars: Clone Wars," a film which belonged on the TV screen. It's setting itself up to be judged by higher standards than is appropriate.
It's that reason why "Disaster Movie" and the duo's other films are going to be enjoyed more by the Face Book generation. Jeremy, Natalie, and I are accustomed to this kind of media. If the movie's random parodies were chopped up and just distributed for free on YouTube then no one would see anything wrong with it and Seltzer and Friedberg would be considered Internet kings. But since it's a film that you pay $9.50 to see you're obviously not going to get your money's worth. And that's really what the two should do. Just start a website. That way they could churn out their parodies more quickly. Better to reign in internet hell than serve in film heaven.