When the comedy revolution comes, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer will be the first ones shot. They are the talentless, incompetent boobs who wrote and directed “Date Movie,” “Epic Movie,” and now “Meet the Spartans,” a desperate and underdone parody of “300.”
Its story and characters are “300”-based, but the anything-goes philosophy allows for all manner of other pop-cultural icons to show up, too, and the easier the target, the better. Britney, Paris, Lindsay, Tom Cruise, Donald Trump — what is this, open-mic night at Chukkle’s Laff Factory? There doesn’t need to be a satirical reason for it. The important thing is that if it was popular within the last year, it’s allowed to appear. Friedberg and Seltzer want you to say, “Hey! I recognize that thing!,” and then to laugh because, um, you recognize it. Actual “jokes” or “satire” are not necessary.
For example, the film starts with an old man examining an infant while a narrator tells us that in ancient Sparta all the babies were carefully checked for defects. This is a fine setup for a lot of potentially funny sight gags: What might this baby’s “defect” be? Then comes the reveal: It’s a baby Shrek. Why? Because “Shrek the Third” was recently a popular movie. The baby Shrek says something with a Scottish accent and then pukes all over the old man. Why? Because puke is funny. Aren’t you laughing just thinking about it?
In another scene, young Leonidas (Sean Maguire) is sent to the wilderness to become a man. While there, he fights … a penguin. Why a penguin? Because there have recently been several popular movies about penguins. Get it? PENGUINS! Like in “Happy Feet”! Remember how you saw that movie? Oh, and this penguin talks like Samuel L. Jackson, all jivey and rude and stuff. GET IT?!?!
Anyway, Leonidas leaves Queen Margo (Carmen Electra) behind while leading an army of 13 oily Spartans to battle against the Persians. Their first encounter with the enemy leads to a “Stomp the Yard”-style dance-off. Here we learn that while the IDEA of a dance-off as a means of settling military differences is funny, actually watching it for three minutes is not. It’s not even comic dancing. It’s just dancing. The movie’s only 72 minutes without credits, and they waste three of them on a dance number.
“300” opens itself up to gay jokes; Friedberg and Seltzer take that and run with it. A few gay jokes would make sense. “Meet the Spartans” uses them over and over and over again. You get the feeling they’re doing it not because it’s satirically appropriate, but because it’s easy.
Also overused and easy: people spitting on each other; farts; poop; general bodily functions.
The film is certainly unfunny on its own merits, but it’s even worse if you’ve seen the truly great spoofs of yesteryear. Films like “Airplane!” and “Top Secret” and “Naked Gun” were sufficiently confident in both the quantity and quality of their jokes to let some of them pass by subtly. “Meet the Spartans,” on the other hand, has to make sure you catch every single gag. It is desperate for your approval. This desperation ruins quite a few jokes that might have otherwise been at least mildly amusing:
– Rocky Balboa shows up (why? Because “Rocky Balboa” was recently a popular movie) and his boxing trunks fall down, revealing an adult diaper. Sort of funny. But when someone sees them and says, “An adult diaper?!,” the humor is gone. Don’t TELL us what the joke is. SHOW us.
– The Persian king Xerxes, instead of being young, thin, and lithe, is played by Ken Davitian, the fat guy from “Borat.” That’s funny. But the joke is ruined when, before we even see him, the narrator tells us that Xerxes “looked a lot like the fat guy from ‘Borat.'”
– Young Spartan warrior Sonio (Travis Van Winkle) rides on Leonidas piggyback-style for a moment. Leonidas says, “Adjust your sword, boy, it’s digging in to my back.” Sonio glances at his sword, which is nowhere near Leondidas’ back. Stop there! That’s the joke! We get it! But no: Sonio says, “I’m not wearing my sword!” Agggh. You ruined it.
The problem with these smash-and-grab spoofs is that even with the highly sped-up schedule — this thing was less than nine months from conception to release date, extraordinarily fast by Hollywood standards — many of its satire targets are already old. Jokes about “American Idol’s” Sanjaya, Britney Spears shaving her head — heck, even jokes about “300” — all stopped being relevant months ago.
What these filmmakers need is a job on “The Tonight Show,” where they can slap together their spoofs in days, not months, and show them to an undiscerning, easy-to-please audience while the targets are still fresh. That scenario would also mean viewers wouldn’t have to pay multiplex prices to see their work, which is surely better for everyone.
F (1 hr., 22 min.; )