“It’s like a “Saw”-style torture-porn movie with a laugh track […].
Hollywood's Genre Repetition
Is “The Hangover Part II” a comedy? Yes, definitely, but only of a recent strain: the now-dominant form of cinematic humor we’ll call the jokeless comedy.
This mutant subgenre is the offspring of two genetically compatible fathers: Todd Phillips, director of both “Hangover” films, as well as “Old School”; and Judd Apatow, director of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” and the producer/midwife to a litter of similar-looking movies with mix’n’match titles. (“Forgetting the Greek”? “Get Him to Sarah Marshall”? “Drillbit Taylor Express”?) Together, like Lenin and Trotsky, Phillips and Apatow have engineered a comedic-cinematic putsch. “Old School,” in 2003, was the April Theses for this uprising, and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” in 2005, was its October Revolution.
Their movies are, at first glance, similar: profane but intrinsically sweet-natured comedies about doughy broheems orbiting one another, water bongs and adult life. Apatow’s boys are usually fringe geeks or happy outcasts (comedy nerds, career stoners), while Phillips’s characters are unhappy, neutered or denatured adults: dentists, stereo salesmen, sad-sack husbands and henpecked clods. In Apatow, the enemy is adulthood, which ruins life; in Phillips, the enemy is women, who ruin men.
What these auteurs truly have in common, though, is that they have systematically boiled away many of the pleasures previously associated with comedy — first among these, jokes themselves — and replaced them with a different kind of lure: the appeal of spending two hours hanging out with a loose and jocular gang of goofy bros. […]
If not jokes, then what do these films offer? The primary pleasure of pretty much every comedy these days is this: Bros hanging with bros. Bromance! (In the case of “Bridesmaids,” the bros are women. But don’t worry: the film still contains the Congressionally mandated explosive-diarrhea scene.)”
We know the arc of the narrative, we know where it’s headed. Changing the setting won’t change the basic theme. Going back to the same well one too many times is a problem afflicting film-makers. Examples:
Movies with the words “Shaolin” or “Kung-Fu” in the title. Movies based on revered graphic novels that the fans of the graphic novels start trashing when the films are still in the pipeline. Movies about unlikely triumphs in competitions no one cares about (ice skating, ping pong, dodgeball, air drumming). Movies where everyone has to lie. Or tell the truth. Or say “yes” all the time. Or something. And, of course, teen vampire movies. Does every US schoolgirl have to be a bloodthirsty vampire?
Too much of a good thing is making us ill. This isn’t just a reaction against sequels; it is a reaction against films that so closely resemble other films that they seem like sequels.
Films about shockingly articulate English gangsters. Films where Juliette Binoche or Julie Delpy or Meryl Streep or Audrey Tautou or Kate Hudson discover the meaning of life in Paris. Films where Jennifer Aniston cannot find the right guy and never suspects that her hair may have something to do with it.
It is a reaction against films based on video games, or films where characters are trapped in video games, or films where people must enter video games to fully comprehend the evil that lurks inside video games and those that play them. Not to mention films where young people did a bad, bad, bad thing and now must pay the price. And, of course, it is a reaction against films that involve the war in Iraq. Or just Iraq.
Films about a gigantic metal object floating around the edge of the solar system – something horrible has happened to its original crew, but we won’t find out what for about 119 minutes. Nor will its cast. The only thing we do know about the haunted vehicle is that it looks exactly like the set from Event Horizon, which looked exactly like the set from Aliens, which looked exactly like the set from Leviathan, which looked a little bit like the set from Doom. We can also be fairly certain the cast will consist of people we have never heard of, plus Sam Neill.
More? Mockumentaries. Wayans Brothers send-ups. Parodies in general. Upscale remakes of downscale Asian horror films. Films about journalists. Films about charismatic schoolteachers. Films where dancing or chess or cooking help save poor inner-city kids from their own worst instincts. Honestly, folks, you can stop making these movies now. Please.