Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Cinema File #276: "The Starving Games" Review

What can be said about the Friedberg/Seltzer movies that haven’t already been said a thousand times before? For those lucky enough to not be aware of them, Friedberg and Seltzer are the men who in the last decade or so have murdered the film parody genre so forcefully and maliciously that every time a new film is released baring their name, Mel Brooks and the Zucker brothers manage to spin around in their graves despite none of them actually being dead yet. Until recently, and with the exception of 2008’s Meet The Spartans, their movies have been easily recognizable by their deliberately obvious titles ending in “Movie” as in Date Movie, Epic Movie, and the aptly named Disaster Movie, all to cash in on the writer/directors’ brief affiliation with the much more successful Scary Movie franchise. Their latest effort follows the pattern of their last movie Vampire’s Suck, with a marginally more subtle naming scheme and a more central focus on one film franchise rather than a hodgepodge of similar movies, and while this approach technically makes The Starving Games somewhat more palatable and dare I say just barely watchable, in the end its still the same shit in a more streamlined package.

The Starving Games, as you most likely guessed fairly easily, is a take off of the popular Hunger Games series, which is to say a direct parody of the first movie in the promised quadrilogy to be released just in time for the second one. Part of me wants to criticize them for such a dated primary reference, but then The Hunger Games only came out last year after all, and seeing as how the most recent Scary Movie entry was throwing out references to much older movies like Inception and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this is actually relatively fresh. The completely pointless extended Avatar reference in the middle of the film, not so much, but at least the main source of material is recent enough that I remember most of the things they’re tweaking. If you’ve never seen any of these movies, the typical structure of what we will call for the sake of convenience the jokes consists of some reference to a pop culture event or personality, usually wedged in haphazardly with no connection to the narrative in any way, designed to elicit a reaction in which the audience mistakes recognition of something for commentary on that thing. Taylor Swift is a thing, and you may have an opinion about her, and may associate her with a funny joke you heard or told at one point, so the idea is that you would see her in the movie being all Taylor Swifty, and your prior associations with this reference will do the work og being funny that the script can’t do on its own.

I shouldn’t have to explain why this approach to comedy is ill-conceived. When I watch this movie and see the guys from LMFAO pop up for no reason, or a stray arrow from the main character's crossbow hit a guy dressed like the Korean rapper Psy for no reason, or any of the other mercifully brief but painfully repeated inserts of pop culture references trotted out for no reason, I can only sit back and imagine in horror the kind of person to which this style of humor appeals. That anyone could be so vacant that a joke need not be anything more than a reference to a thing they know exists causes me to live in constant fear of my fellow man, always wary of just how many of these troglodytes are out there, and how many of them vote and have access to weapons or other potentially harmful instruments. There's a moment halfway through the film when the hero, who I've been trying to refrain from calling by her name because its fucking Cantmiss Evershot, encounters a weird talking fruit that spouts a series of bad jokes. I assume this is a reference to something to which I am unaware, but the thing about it is that the fruit is telling jokes that are intentionally bad, or at least I gather this from the reactions of the other characters in the scene, but in a movie like this, I can't tell the difference between jokes meant to be bad and all the other jokes that are just plain bad.

Beyond "more than one of them," for the most part I honestly couldn't say at this point which Friedberg/Seltzer movies I've seen and which one's I've missed, because the formula is typically such a mish mash of movie references that even the indication of genre in the titles isn't any indication of what movies might show up, and over the years they've all just sort of blended together in my memory. The Starving Games appears to at least try to avoid this by keeping the other movie parodies from interfering in the plot, relegating them to sometimes blink and you'll miss them moments. This isn't to say that I think these people have learned restraint, just that I think they've gotten even lazier and decided that poking fun at one movie is easier than assembling a Frankenstein plot out of four or five current-ish summer blockbusters. As a result, it feels a little more cohesive and traditional, but in a way making this style of movie barely watchable only makes it that much worse, because its just below the threshold where I would otherwise turn it off in disgust, so I now end up sitting through the whole unbearable thing.

The Starving Games ends with an extended blooper reel wherein the cast and crew laugh and pal around like ordinary humans do, as if to assuage my natural assumption that the people behind this film are not human at all, but rather some form of reptilian monsters disguised as humans, enacting a somewhat convoluted plan to subjugate humanity via terrible comedy. I don't buy the ruse for a second. To be able to find this shit funny in any complete or extended capacity is proof positive that the place where human joy comes from in your brain is configured in some horrifying alien design, and if this movie is to serve any practical purpose, it should be to draw out the secret reptilians among us so that we will know who to go after with the pitchforks and torches. They reveal themselves by their superficial understanding of the connection between reference and comedy, not unlike the Blue Gill aliens from Star Trek reveal themselves by their lack of personal memory. And thus they are the architects of their own destruction. Okay, sorry, this review sort of got away from me there at the end, but that's just how fucking awful Friedberg and Seltzer are. They have once again wrecked my brain with their terribleness. That is all.

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