Youtube Film Club – The Helix…Loaded (2005)

The era of the parody movie seems to be behind us, thank heavens. The last Friedberg / Seltzer movie with any sort of money behind it was 2010’s “Vampires Suck!” (which I sort of half-liked), and while they made a Fast and Furious parody as recently as 2015 – “Superfast” – it was straight-to-Netflix and barely anyone watched it. Their “Taken” parody, “Who The F*** Took My Daughter?” has been abandoned, so it would seem, and while they have a Star Wars parody in the works, there’s a decent chance that never makes it either.

Even though they’re justifiably mocked as terrible and not funny, they’re far from the worst operating in this particular cesspool. That honour must go to David Murphy, writer / director of “Not Another Not Another Movie”, which paid Burt Reynolds, Chevy Chase and Vinnie Jones to wander through the set for half an hour with a camera on them, and is among the more miserable experiences of my life. Honourable mentions go to such people as Marlon Wayans, who continues to churn out parody movies, such as “A Haunted House” and “Fifty Shades Of Black”; Josh Stolberg gave us “The Hungover Games”, not to be confused with Friedberg and Seltzer’s own “The Starving Games”; and a monster by the name of Craig Moss has made “The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It”, “Breaking Wind Part 1”, and “30 Nights Of Paranormal Activity With The Devil Inside The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”.

I’m a believer in us getting the sort of entertainment we deserve, and this catalogue of misery was foisted on us because we kept giving them money. Luckily, we all woke up from this national nightmare, and aside from the occasional accident, like a budget that was decided ten years ago and no-one had the heart to cancel, we are free.

All this is sort of irrelevant when talking about a movie from 2005, though, even one that I was completely unaware of until earlier this morning. What’s perhaps surprising is that, in this torrent of parody movies, “The Matrix” survived relatively un-mocked (the billion comedy sketches about its two or three most famous scenes notwithstanding, of course). Then, this fine new year’s morning, as I sat shivering on the sofa, trying to beat the cold I picked up a few days ago, I discover this, and find it’s available in its entirety on Youtube!

There’s even a plot. A group of party-goers are looking for a mysterious substance called “The Helix”, which is like the ultimate high or something, but Orpheum and his sidekick Infiniti know that it’s got some mystical enlightenment powers and they need “The Other One” (“The One” having died in a boating accident) to combat some super-powered agents and the mega-corporation that employs Nuvo and his friends.

Anyway, that’s all you’re getting of that. Aside from the majority Matrix stylings, there’s a bit of “Fight Club” mixed in there, as they were really aiming hard for that late 90s audience…in 2005. The jokes are unbearably lame, as like so many others, it seems to think that having a character dressed like someone from a famous movie, or say a line from one, is enough for the joke.

But there’s a section roughly in the middle that feels like it was written by a funnier person. There’s a joke about Sha-Na-Na in there, which would have flown over the heads of 99% of the people watching it, Sha-Na-Na having ceased to be a thing 30 years before the movie came out. Then there’s a segment which gently parodies “Koyaanisqatsi”, the Godfrey Reggio experimental documentary (with the legendary Philip Glass soundtrack), which made me smile but must have been done purely for the filmmakers’ own amusement.

The final battle is just terrible, though, as the movie grinds to a halt when it should be going full-tilt for the end. It felt like every actor demanded their own mini-scene when they didn’t need it – the lack of anything approaching a central character was a bit of a bummer throughout (the Keanu Reeves avatar, who was more interesting in doing a “Bill And Ted” impression anyway, kept disappearing from the movie for entire scenes, like he was busy doing something else during filming).

When your big acting name is Vanilla Ice, and it’s 2005, there are some serious questions you need to ask yourself. Well, one, and that is “should I be releasing this damn thing? Is this not just a vanity project to show my friends anyway?” Poor ol’ Vanilla doesn’t even get all that much screen time! The one acting name I had heard of – Jennifer Sky, star of the Robert Tapert / Sam Raimi produced series “Cleopatra 2525” – is in one scene, for about 5 seconds; and the weird thing is, she’d have been totally decent in the one central role that cast an actor who looked a lot like her, much better than the woman who ended up being cast, and I can’t imagine she was too busy or charged too much then either.

It’s cheap-looking, certainly, and is filmed in a variety of ugly interiors, but some of the special effects are good – the ones that most directly parody similar scenes from its more famous parent are pretty well done, and honestly not that much worse than the original. Kudos to the special effect guys!

Movies like this are almost enough to convince me the Matrix is real – think you’ve got it figured out and they’ll just tweak reality on you. How did this movie make it all the way to 2019 without me ever having heard of it? Plus, it’s got Vanilla Ice in it! I’m pretty sure it never existed until this morning, and I fully expect this review to disappear, along with my memory of it, Youtube and IMDB links, and so on, when the Matrix’s programmers figure out the mistake.

Rating: thumbs down

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Superfast! (2015)

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Friedberg and Setzer. From being two of the six writers of “Scary Movie”, they’ve turned into a fairly dependable money making team, spewing out spoof movies every year or so since 2006. Their names are widely derided, with about the kindest thing said about them being they’re “a pimple on the ass of Hollywood”, managing to be even less popular than Uwe Boll. Their formula seems to have changed a little recently, though, going from “what’s famous this year for us to mock?” humour to something a little more focused, concentrating on a specific film or series. “Best Night Ever” (“The Hangover” / “Bridesmaids”) managed to get some positive-ish reviews, and along with this year’s “Who The F*** Took My Daughter?” we’ve got this.

 

The first, ahem, roadblock, this movie faces is “how do you mock a franchise that’s completely aware of how over the top it is?” While you could say the first two Paul Walker-centric movies were sort of serious, by the time it came back for 2009’s “Fast And Furious” they knew exactly what they were doing – ever wilder car based stunts, a huge and oddly-cast group of stars, and nothing but fun and excitement. Full disclosure – despite not being a driver, I adore the Fast and Furious movies and am fully aware of how silly they all are.

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The answer we’re given to that question is “give half the cast a lobotomy”. Think back to “Scary Movie”, if you will. Remember the extraordinarily dumb jock character? He’d be the smartest male character in this movie (the women are, of course, only there to wear tight tops and look disapprovingly at the men). Rather than think up jokes, too often they just copy a scene from one of the F&F movies, but have it played out by idiots, and it feels so damn lazy.

 

It’s not too cheap-looking, and there are occasional great jokes – the scene where they’re looking at a blueprint is really well done, for one. But almost all the funny stuff is just beaten into the ground, like they’re saying “not sure that thing we did five minutes ago was a joke? Well, here it is again, so you can laugh this time”. The first repeated joke (stupid handshakes) is done 12 minutes in, and it doesn’t get any better from there. The cast is solid too, no-one embarrassingly bad or anything like that, but they must know the toxic reputation of Friedberg and Setzer so I feel bad that they couldn’t get any other work.

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There are two movies which have elements of parodying this genre in them which are much more worthy of your time. By far the best is “Torque”, an early Adam Scott movie; but there’s also the ultra-low-budget “The Fear Of Speed”, which has a slightly more “adult” spin on things.

 

I think you know what to expect, coming into this. The writer/directors are unlikely to suddenly improve at this stage in their careers, especially now their budgets appear to be going down (not a single face you’ll really recognise from anything else, filmed in a variety of miserable-looking back streets); and while it’s far from good, if someone ever forces you to watch it, it’s certainly better than most forms of torture.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Scary Movie (2000)

If only that line at the bottom were true

If only that line at the bottom were true

This isn’t so much going to be much of a review of the film itself, because I’m sure none of us really care. You’re unlikely to stumble on it, and thanks to the time-specific nature of the “comedy” the makers don’t exactly encourage you to watch the old ones. The immediacy that allows these films to exist (yes, stuff that just happened is hilarious!) also acts against re-viewing – although the horrific thought exists that this may be viewed as a “classic” in comparison to the demon spawn it birthed.

I thought Keenen Ivory Wayans was a genius. I adored “In Living Colour” and his two earlier films “Don’t Be A Menace To South Central…” and “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka!” were both favourites of mine; but by the time this came out he’d not done much for a while. I don’t consider “Scream” a parody of slasher movies as much as I see it as a meta-commentary on the rules of the game (because, as we know, it follows all the rules slavishly, and absolutely works in its own right as a slasher movie), so I never took this as a parody of a parody, or whatever. I wanted to like it.

And it’s sort-of okay! Anna Faris is an excellent straight woman to the insanity all round her, the main cast is all fine and it looks like a decent amount of money was spent on it. Okay, it’s not perfect (I got bored with the constant gay jokes, for one) but it’s interesting to see a film like this that allows for some plot to creep in around the barrage of jokes. The two main films parodied are “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer”, but there’s references to a lot of things that’d have been in the public consciousness at the time. Heck, I’d say give the first two a try, if you’re in the mood. There are worse comedies out there.

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But, this is perhaps the best example (I can think of) of success spoiling people. Lots of people. After this film’s monstrous box office, Keenen Ivory Wayans was clearly given a blank cheque to make two movies, and the two he came up with are “White Chicks” and “Littleman”, two of the worst films it’s ever been my misfortune to see. His career sank like a stone after that, although there was a brief blip in 2009 when his cousin Damien Dante Wayans directed “Dance Flick”, an attempt by them to ape their former writers Friedberg and Setzer that disappeared almost completely without trace (have you ever heard of it?)

Talking of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Setzer, their story has been told by many sites like this. “A pimple on the ass of Hollywood” is about the nicest thing I’ve seen written about them- after being two of the six credited writers on “Scary Movie”, they branched out on their own, although it took them a while to get going. “Date Movie”, “Epic Movie”, “Meet The Spartans”, “Disaster Movie”, “Vampires Suck” and “The Starving Games”, six of the worst and blamed by many for the decline of Western civilisation (although I watched “Vampires Suck” when I had a fever once, and I didn’t hate it). Taking that Twilight-themed masterpiece at random, it made $80 million, which doesn’t include home video and Netflix sales, from a $20 million budget. From their spots at the bottom of the writer’s list for an above-average-ish parody movie, they’ve made a decade-plus career happen, and it’s not stopped yet.

In the last couple of years, we’ve had “Best Night Ever”, which looks like a cross between “The Hangover” and “Bridesmaids” and rather bizarrely had some positive reviews, as it appears to be something a bit like a proper movie. Coming up are “Superfast”, taking on the Fast & Furious franchise, and “Who The F*** Took My Daughter?”, which is just listed as “announced” thus far, and I’m going to take a wild stab on being somewhat similar to “Taken”. I miss their old naming format, as we’d have had “Bachelorette Movie”, “Car-Based Theft Movie” and “Child Abduction Movie”.

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Ultimately, you can compare them to the great parodists of the previous generation, Mel Brooks and the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker team. It’s safe to say that those guys loved and understood the things they were parodying, because there’s so much detail and background stuff (“Airplane”, famously, lifts entire scenes wholesale from “Zero Hour”, and the change of emphasis makes them hilarious). They are, of course, vastly superior to Friedberg and Setezer, but when audiences are allowing the two of them to make a comfortable profit on all their movies, someone is going to keep funding this comedy of recognition, where the actual joke is far secondary to just saying “hey, look at this thing you remember!”

There’s a strange thread running through criticism of them, though, which indicates they’re making the world worse. Korey Coleman of Spill.com, writing in 2010, said “I think it shows a slight de-evolution in what people will accept as entertainment”, and this is ludicrous. The idea that, were it not for Friedberg and Seltzer, the $80,000,000 that “Vampires Suck” made would be flowing straight into the coffers of the nearest arthouse cinema, is an absolute nonsense. Besides, as someone who’s sat through some truly dreadful semi-improv mumblecore movies, making rotten, lazy “entertainment” is not something that’s limited to the so-called bottom end of the intellectual spectrum.

They are an effect, not a cause. We cannot strip funding from our schools, actively try and stop people from thinking critically, and to reduce political discourse to two old white men shouting at each other, then to expect the kids that come up through that system to enjoy the same sort of things we did. If having an attention span is seen as an irrelevance, why should we expect people to display evidence of one? Blaming the people who make movies like this for the state of society is like blaming the fire when a lunatic burns down your house. You want to stop more Friedbergs and Seltzers? Then campaign for better schools, to stop the rich stealing from the rest of us, for separation of church and state and for less bigotry. Giving their films 0% on Rotten Tomatoes has done precisely nothing to affect their popularity, and has probably even helped in some instances.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday The 13th (2000)

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There are a grand total of two of the “parody everything” films which are worth a damn – “Not Another Teen Movie” and this (that I enjoyed “Vampires Suck” while I had a fever doesn’t count, I think). “Shriek…” is not particularly clever, but it throws so much material at the wall, and has at least one genuinely brilliant moment, that I think it’s still worth a watch.

The plot is a loose amalgam of “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer”, but that’s really not important. A group of four high school students, the horny nerd, the cute goth, the slutty prom queen and the incredibly stupid jock, take new kid Dawson under their wing at the same time as a masked killer begins killing people. There’s a dumb security guard, a beautiful TV news reporter, The Artist Formerly Known As Principal, and so on. I can’t believe I was about to try and describe the plot of a parody movie. I’m sorry, readers.

Imagine if something was sort of well-known in the late 90s, because if it was it’ll be in this movie, no matter if it makes sense. There are several Dawson’s Creek references – remember Pacey having an affair with his teacher? Well, in this they’ve had a child, and the mother is played by the amazing Mink Stole, one of John Waters’ original group of actors.

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There’s a decent cast here as well. Julie Benz, of “Buffy” and “Dexter” fame, plays a student, while Tiffani Thiessen of “Saved By The Bell” and “White Collar” fame plays the reporter (although Benz was 28 at the time this was filmed, Thiessen 26); Tom Arnold is the stupid “cop” and Coolio the principal – sorry, I said decent cast. BOOM! Majandra Delfino is fun as the cute goth, and it’s a shame her career didn’t do too much after “Roswell”.

Making up for some of the endless parade of awful “this room at the school has a class you wouldn’t expect!” jokes are a few great segments. There’s a “Pop Up Video” segment while the killer chases a couple of kids round the house; a Grease “Greased Lightning” parody which is amazing – the lyrics to the song are muffled enough to let them get away with insulting everybody; and best of all, there’s a segment mirroring the bit in “Scream” where they explain the rules of horror movies, but explaining the rules of parody movies. It’s clever and funny too.

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There’s just so much which doesn’t work. I get the feeling they used every single joke they had submitted to them, and no-one involved in the making of it knew anything about quality control. Still, I enjoyed this the first time I saw it, and enjoyed it again last night. I’d suggest being in a good mood and being old enough to remember the stream of references, but all that being well, you’ll have a good time with this. It’s about on a level with the first “Scary Movie” and vastly superior to all the sequels, and much better than all the Setzer / Friedberg “films”, so there’s that.

Rating: thumbs up