Date Movie

I don’t want to deliver a dissertation on what constitutes satire or parody, but I will say this: “Date Movie” isn’t it.

This would-be spoof of romantic comedies, written and directed by two of the “Scary Movie” writers (Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer), falls prey to the misconception — common in modern American humor — that to make reference to something is the same thing as parodying it.

For example, there’s a scene where two women, rivals for the same man’s affections, appear in costumes from “Kill Bill,” with the same music playing in the background. They threaten each other with swords while eyeing one other angrily. Finally their swords clank together and break, and the scene ends.

Now, I’m guessing Friedberg and Seltzer referred to that scene around the set as “the ‘Kill Bill’ parody.” But it’s not a parody. A parody imitates the style of something for comedic effect, usually through exaggeration. The only “Kill Bill” element that is exaggerated here is that we keep flashing back to images of why the women hate each other, over and over again. So are they suggesting “Kill Bill” over-used the flashback device, and to make that satiric point, they OVER-over-use it? That’s valid satire, except I don’t think “Kill Bill” DID over-use flashbacks, and if it did, it wasn’t predominant enough to make me think, three years later when I see “Date Movie,” “Oh yeah! ‘Kill Bill’ DID do the flashback thing too often! Good call, ‘Date Movie’!”

I think what they were ACTUALLY going for — and the other half-hearted, dim-witted, misguided non-parodies in the film bear this out — is that we’ll laugh simply because we recognize what they’re imitating. “Hey!” we’re supposed to think. “That’s a duplication of something I saw in another movie, only with different actors! So it must be funny! Ha ha!”

Here’s a woman meant as a J-Lo parody whose butt is outrageously big. Here’s a guy playing a song on a ghetto blaster outside his girlfriend’s window, like in “Say Anything.” (It’s not even a funny song choice, like “Baby Got Back” or something. It’s just some average classic rock “I miss you” song.) Here’s a “Pretty Woman” flashback where boy meets girl when one of them is a prostitute — only it’s the boy who’s the hooker, decked out in a miniskirt and high heels cruising Rodeo Drive. See, it’s just like in “Pretty Woman,” only they SWITCHED THE ROLES!! Get it?!

No, because there’s nothing to get. These aren’t jokes. They’re references. Sometimes a surprising or well-done reference can earn a laugh of recognition, but it’s nothing to hang your entire movie on. “Date Movie” is “satire” without bite, a rant without an actual agenda.

Why, in a parody of romantic comedies, would you have so much of the story line parallel “Meet the Parents” and “Meet the Fockers” — two movies that are NOT romantic comedies? In fact, I counted 20 films directly referenced or spoofed in “Date Movie,” and eight of them have nothing to do with the genre allegedly being mocked. (“Lord of the Rings”? “King Kong”? Seriously, you’re just throwin’ stuff at the wall here, aren’t you?) That’s a focus problem, that is.

And why spoof minor, specific details of movies, like the father’s affection for Windex in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”? (Here, his counterpart is always spraying a bottle of hummus.) Do you think we just watched “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” yesterday? Do you think a movie that’s four years old is so ingrained in our memories that we’ll instantly appreciate your lackluster spoofs of its elements?

Anyway, Alyson Hannigan plays Julia Jones, a fat girl who gets made-over and liposuctioned and bags a handsome English guy named Grant (Adam Campbell). She feels jealous of Grant’s ex-girlfriend, though, a babelicious blonde named Andy (Sophie Monk). Interspersed are references to “Hitch,” “What Women Want,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and several others. See if you can count ’em all! (You’ll probably miss the reference to “Rize.” Why is there a reference to “Rize”? Again, throwin’ stuff at walls.)

Alyson Hannigan is a joy to watch in anything, and the opening scene, in which she exuberantly dances around Manhattan in her latex fatsuit to the strains of “My Milkshake,” may not be terribly funny, but it is energetic and oddly endearing. This is an actress richly deserving of a leading role in an actual date movie, not “Date Movie.”

D- (1 hr., 18 min.; PG-13, scattered profanity, a lot of vulgarity and sexual humor, a lot of gross-out humor.)