2011 was not a good year for comedy. Arguably the best comedy of the year, “Bridesmaids” was, at its best, an adequate The Hangover-esque comedy for women and, at its worst, an unnecessarily long and meandering plot with a funny diarrhea scene somewhere in the middle (fecal-spoiler). The R-Rated comedy has had a checkered past, but now that the Judd Apatow-Renaissance is upon us (“The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up“), the theater audience has been treated with some good and often great comedic films delving into crass witticism and scatological humor. The Will Farrell/Adam McKay comedies even seem to fare better in their “Unrated” DVD iterations when compared to their tamer PG-13 theatrical runs. Conversely, it appears that this age of comedic enlightenment has been short-lived.
The culprits of last year’s nosedive are films such as “Horrible Bosses,” “The Change-Up,” “The Hangover: Part II,” “Bad Teacher,” “Hall Pass,” “30 Minutes or Less,” “Your Highness,” and, the worst of the bunch, “Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star.” Not only were all of these films desperately unfunny, they all featured great acting and comedic talent which were undermined by bad writing and their appeal to the lowest common denominator. These films were critical bombs, with an average Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of only 38%. In spite of this criticism, the majority of these films still went on to be very successful in the box office, both domestic and internationally. Furthermore, some of these stinkers have been green-lit by Hollywood for sequels in 2012 and 2013. The pedestrian retread of the comedy formula displayed in The Hangover II is only a sign of the forthcoming glut of disappointing sequels
It’s the continual success of these mediocre efforts that will only plunge the proverbial nail into the comedic coffin. In my theater-going experience, I probably heard an average of three laughs per film. Whatever happened to the uproarious, pop-corn spilling, Diet Coke™ choking laughter that I remember from seeing such films such as “Old School,” “Step Brothers,” “Wedding Crashers” and the aforementioned Apatow films? There is the likelihood that comedy changes. What we perceive as funny rides on the ebbs and flows of the modern zeitgeist; however, there’s still an appreciation for the absurd established by the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton that will remain firmly planted in the high arches of every smile and the bellowing highs and lows of an audience’s laughter. It is absurd that we settle for anything less.
So what can you do, as a ticket purchasing, crowd-shushing cinephile, to condemn these half-ass attempts at comedy? For one, you can speak with your wallet. Instead of being first in line to see that obligatory sequel to a film you might have enjoyed, do your research. Not every sequel is akin to The Empire Strikes Back, there are a lot of cash-grabs going on in Hollywood and in the foreign film industry. Also, keep your ear to the internet grindstone. With early screenings and the advent of social networking, there’s no good reason why you’d unwittingly walk into a bad film anymore. If you want to experience how bad the film can be for ironic/lampooning reasons, don’t condone it by spending for the high amount of a ticket price; rather, wait for a cheap rental or stock-pile some friends into a large automobile and see it on the cheap at a local drive-in. Either way, it’s our dollars that support these juvenile attempts at base humor, instead of falling by the wayside. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch some higher-brow poo-poo humor.
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