By my count, there are at least 25 movies referenced in “Disaster Movie,” the latest abominable train wreck engineered by the untalented hacks who excreted “Date Movie,” “Epic Movie,” and “Meet the Spartans.” Note that I do not say “Disaster Movie” spoofs or satirizes 25 movies — only that it refers to them.
You and I know that mentioning something is not the same thing as spoofing it. (We also know that spoofing is not the same as satirizing, but that’s a discussion for another day.) Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, who write and direct these films as a duo, do not know this. In their minds, all it takes to spoof “The Incredible Hulk” is for the character to show up and then be crushed by a falling cow.
Get it?! It’s a character you recognize from a different movie, but here he is in THIS movie! And then he gets hurt!
The title notwithstanding, disaster movies are not the object of “Disaster Movie’s” satire (such as it is). You’re thinking “The Towering Inferno,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” or “The Day After Tomorrow”; they’re thinking “Sex and the City,” “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” and “Juno” — any movie that came out within the last year, in other words. The film’s basic structure parallels “Cloverfield” (which sort of qualifies), and there’s a reference to “Twister” — from 12 years ago — and the only joke is that a tornado keeps throwing cows around. But other than that, “Disaster Movie” is really nothing more than an ill-conceived, unfunny series of weak, talent-show-at-summer-camp-level skits.
Pop-cultural icons are included too, no matter how out-of-date they may be. (Dr. Phil parodies? Really? And Michael Jackson? Holy crap, non sequitur Michael Jackson jokes in 2008?!) So here comes a Justin Timberlake impersonator to sing about how many hot chicks he’s slept with. Here’s “Amy Winehouse” pulling objects out of her beehive and name-checking Facebook. (Get it?? Because Facebook is a thing you’ve heard of!) There’s the guys from “Superbad” (look-alikes, that is) trying to steal booze from a party. No real jokes, of course — just people pretending to be these other people.
When the film does bother to actually satirize something — that is, to point out its flaws by way of comic exaggeration or irony — the satire is toothless and obvious. There’s a Juno character called Juney (Crista Flanagan) who, when it’s pointed out that nobody can understand her, says, “That’s because I speak in overly written clever-for-clever’s-sake quips.” That’s a fair satiric criticism of “Juno” — too bad this movie didn’t come out eight months ago, before every single person in the world had already made the same observation. In addition, is it not the height of chutzpah for “Disaster Movie” to mock a comedy that even its detractors would acknowledge is funnier than “Disaster Movie”?
Sometimes I’ll watch a terrible comedy and think, “I bet this actor could be really good if he had better material.” Three of this film’s cast members, Nicole Parker, Crista Flanagan, and Ike Barinholtz, are from “MAD TV,” and I suspect they do well there. With a good script and competent directors, they could probably funnel their natural comedic instincts into something genuinely funny.
I do not believe the same is true for the film’s star, Matt Lanter. Whatever talents this man may have, comedy is not among them. Granted, the combined geniuses of Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Charlie Chaplin, Jerry Lewis, Will Ferrell, and Lucille Ball in their primes could not have made “Disaster Movie” good, but talented comics can usually at least elevate poor material. Lanter, bless his heart, is a blank slate. Then again, his co-stars are MTV “personality” Vanessa Minnillo and scabrous reality whore Kim Kardashian, so I guess no one was looking for real actors anyway.
The movie is cheap, lazy, and sloppy, an obvious throwaway that no one put any effort into. There is not a single laugh in it. As in their last bloodbath, “Meet the Spartans,” Friedberg and Seltzer demonstrate an astonishing unawareness of how to write a gag, much less how to film it. They kill time by staging dance-offs and fight sequences, because those things are easy to write. The few elements that had humorous potential feel dated — after all, even movies that are slapped together take a few months to assemble, and the cultural landscape changes quickly. The “I’m F***ing Matt Damon” parody that appears at the end (PG-13-ified to “dating”) might have been mildly amusing if we’d seen it in February. Now it’s just embarrassing.
Embarrassment. It’s a feeling you should get used to, Freidberg and Seltzer. You should feel it deeply and painfully. You should be ashamed to tell anyone your names. May you never befoul another cinema with your grotesque comic abortions.
F (1 hr., 25 min.; )