The Comedy Flops of 2009

4 06 2010

I don’t often put much thought into what is written on DVD cases.  However, I saw a particularly interesting one on the cover of “Year One.”  Rene Rodriguez of the Miami Herald wrote:

“I double dare anyone not to laugh.”

So, I decided to take Mr. Rodriguez’s dare.  Easier done than said.  I think I laughed more in “Revolutionary Road” than I did in “Year One.”

A few weeks later, I found myself watching “Land of the Lost.”  On the DVD case for that instant classic, Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune said:

“Laugh-out-loud funny!”

I never LOLed, although I did chuckle a few times.  These weren’t mild laughs; they were a response to very uncomfortable situations that I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to.

We laugh off these two movies now like an age-old joke; they somehow have quickly come to be the quintessence of comedic failure.  But back in June 2009, “Year One” and “Land of the Lost” had massive expectations.  They were supposed to rake in the money while making audiences howl with laughter.  But as we all know, they both fell flat on their faces in both respects.

Fast forward to today, 2010, and the studios are praying they haven’t got another comedic dud on their hands.  Universal, who was responsible “Land of the Lost,” brings us “Get Him to the Greek” on June 4; Sony, guilty for “Year One,” gives us “Grown Ups” on June 25.  These studios would nothing more than to have their latest releases become the new “The Hangover,” a modest comedy which far exceeded anyones expectations.

There are reasons why “Year One” and “Land of the Lost” flopped, and both share a lot of the same missteps.  Allow me to elaborate…

1. Fading comedic stars. At the beginning of the millennium, we thought Jack Black and Will Ferrell were among the new saviors of comedy.  We gave them a name (The “Frat Pack”) and anticipated their latest releases as if they were manna from the god of laughter.  Ferrell emerged to prominence after seven years on “SNL,” then established himself as king of comedy with leading roles in “Old School,” “Elf,” and “Anchorman.”  Black, on the other hand, took mainly supporting parts in films in the 1990s before his breakout performance in “High Fidelity.”  This started getting him lead comedic roles until he hit it big with “The School of Rock” in 2003.

We foolishly thought that these massive successes were only the beginning, overlooking the possibility that they could be the peaks.  Both Ferrell and Black had a rocky few years to follow, each with occasional successes and failures.  We got a few warning signs that they were starting to lose their steam – Ferrell with “Semi-Pro” and “Step Brothers,” Black with “Nacho Libre” and  “Tropic Thunder” (no matter what you thought of the movie, you have to admit he was the weakest link).

By the time of their bombs in 2009, Americans had pretty much realized that these were two one-trick ponies.  The characters that they play were funny a few times.  But when every performance Ferrell and Black give are just shades of the same character, it’s going to backfire.  People don’t want to watch the same thing over and over again.

2. Tired sidekicks. Two emerging comedic talents also came up flat: Danny McBride in “Land of the Lost” and Michael Cera in “Year One.”  They play characters that are supposed to provide comic relief if the main comic isn’t being funny – McBride, the annoying loudmouth and Cera, the shy and confused teen.

I love Danny McBride and I am more than willing to forgive him for “Land of the Lost.”  It’s a dreadful role with dreadful jokes, but he made me laugh the hardest in “Pineapple Express” and was the only person who made me laugh in “Tropic Thunder.”  He plays these rougher and meaner characters so well, and he truly is one of the best character actors out there.  This was just an unfortunate choice not only because of the movie but also because he had done several roles very similar to this one.

Michael Cera, on the other hand, has no excuse.  He has been playing the whining, baby-faced teen for three years now, so he should have it down to a science.  A good actor would take a part they are gifted at playing and make it better each time, bringing a new dimension to every character.  We thought Michael Cera was a good actor after “Superbad” and “Juno,” where he made innocence first hilarious then charming.  But now, he has fallen into a disturbing pattern, and all his roles hit the same note: annoying!  Not to mention there’s also Jesse Eisenberg out there in Hollywood, who plays similar roles but in more mature movies.

3. High-concept failure. You would think that a land where past, present, and future collide (“Land of the Lost”) could provide great creative fodder.  You would probably think the same of the book of Genesis and biblical times in general (“Year One”).  But both movies act like the concept alone is enough to make you laugh.  Neither cares to elaborate or to delve creatively into the amazing worlds their characters inhabit.  Rather than laughing at the jokes, we end up laughing at the movie itself.  High-concepts can be inventive, but when they lose that imaginative spark, they become completely ridiculous.

4. Horrible scripts. As “The Hangover” showed us, what is said and done is more important than who is saying and doing it.  We don’t need a member of the “Frat Pack” to make us laugh; their presence alone does not guarantee comedy.  Perhaps more than anything, the failures of “Land of the Lost” and “Year One” are a reminder that America is leaving the era of the movie star.  And that’s not such a bad thing since we are migrating towards better quality, something that has to begin with the script.

Land of the Lost: D+ /
Year One: D /

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9 responses

5 06 2010
Castor

When will Hollywood realize that slapstick comedy gets tiring after the first couple minutes? The best comedy, always, ALWAYS rely on great dialogue and characters the audience can easily relate to.

5 06 2010
CMrok93

Year One was disappointing, but I’ll take Land of the Lost over that any day. Ferrell and McBride bring a lot of good jokes to the table with their zany personalities. I’m not saying its a great movie by any stretch just a better comedy than Year One any day of the week.

5 06 2010
Marshall

Oh, LOTL was definitely the better movie, although I’ll disagree with you that either Farrell or McBride brought much to the table.

And @Castor: Exactly! Couldn’t agree with you more … basically a concise way of saying what I was communicating with this post.

7 06 2010
Jennifer

I agree, without a good script a movie is worthless. Good writing is what makes TV shows succeed (“The Office”, “Glee”, “30 Rock”) and its what will make a movie succeed as well. I cringe at horrible lines and poor writing, there were multiple in most of the three minuet trailers I saw tonight.

I also completely agree on the Michael Cera, Jesse Eisenberg comparison. Cera has been very disappointing recently, I think he has seen his “peak” and his day is done.

7 06 2010
James D.

I looked up that Miami Herald review. It is pretty scathing, and that quote refers to one scene. It would seem Rodriguez has some quote whore issues.

7 06 2010
Marshall

Or Sony has some taking quotes out of context issues.

And @ James, really! You hit it spot-on with Will Ferrell! When is he going to stop choosing such atrocious movies? The golden days of “Anchorman” seem an eternity ago…

7 06 2010
James

I agree about the necessity of a quality script, especially with Land of the Lost that was clearly just god-awful writing. I’m a huge fan of Will Ferrell but he really needs to take his agent out back and shoot him. That film had no plot and completely one-dimensional characters. Not really sure what he was thinking on that one (same with Bewitched).

9 06 2010
Harry

Frankly speaking, Year One was the worst film I’ve ever seen. I did not laugh a single time in the movie, and it was the only one I’ve ever considered walking out of. It was awful. So bad. I’m having bad flashbacks. I think I’d rather be waterboarded for one hour and a half than watch Year One again.

9 06 2010
Marshall

Agreed. “Year One” was like getting stoned in ye olden days … quite potent torture.

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