This week in movies you missed: A comedy Roger Ebert hated so much he pretty much just said, "Screw it" and stopped writing his review half way through.
What You Missed
Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are the creators/stars of the cult sketch-comedy show "Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!" (seen on the Cartoon Network from 2007 to 2010). In their feature film outing, they play themselves, and various famous guest stars who've appeared on their show turn up.
Billion Dollar Movie starts from a premise not dissimilar to the real-life case of Mac Parker — OK, that's pushing it. This premise could never have happened in reality anywhere.
A Hollywood-ized Tim and Eric (pictured) have been given the titular sum to make their first film. They produce a cinematic opus that suggests a 12-year-old boy's idea of Oscar bait, complete with Paris, faux poetry and Johnny Depp. It runs three minutes, and the star turns out to be a Depp impersonator. The rest of the billion was used to retain Tim and Eric's personal guru (too briefly played by a peevish Zach Galifianakis) to the tune of $10K per week.
The head of the Schlaaang Corporation (Robert Loggia), who bankrolled the film, wants the pair's blood. When they see a commercial in which a seedy entrepreneur (Will Ferrell) begs someone to take over his ailing shopping mall, Tim and Eric think they've found a way to repay their debt.
They hightail it to Middle America, where they find the S'wallow Valley Mall, a purgatorial wasteland haunted by a wolf and managed by an adult-sized feral child covered with pustules (John C. Reilly). Sample retail attractions include a sword emporium owned by Will Forte; a used-toilet-paper shop; and a "healing center" where Ray Wise (best known as Leland Palmer from "Twin Peaks") dispenses a unique form of therapy.
Why You Missed It
Billion Dollar Movie played just 33 theaters. Which sounds reasonable for a divisive cult item, until you consider that comedies as terrible as Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star have received wide releases.
Should You Keep Missing It?
The description above should give you enough info to answer this question. I've never seen Tim and Eric's show, but my fascination with tastelessness and absurdity dictated that I give Billion Dollar Movie a chance.
It's a mixed bag. There are scenes that belong in the annals of outrageousness, such as a certain graphic sex-capade that is intercut with our discovery of what goes on at the healing center (hint: bodily fluids are involved; but you knew that, didn't you?). There are funny performances. There is a beautifully disgusting, nihilistic finale. There are also scenes and gags that meander like a "Saturday Night Live" sketch stretched to feature length. Without a satirical target or much to say (unlike, say, Idiocracy or Team America: World Police), the comedy often seems to be going nowhere.
Will fans of Tim and Eric's show love it? I can't say, but they should check out the wildly diverse comments on this review, where some hail it as the ultimate stoner flick and others (including self-professed fans of the show) deride it as little better than the stuff Adam Sandler's been churning out lately.
This variance of opinions makes me very interested in checking out T & E on YouTube. In this movie, they don't come off particularly well as comic actors; Ferrell, Reilly and Galifianakis get more laughs. Rather than creating unique characters, Heidecker and Wareheim play generic doofus man-children and then lean hard on the comedy of escalation: Many of their gags involve taking something innocent (like a musical number about going out on the town) and warping it into something naughty, and then into something downright grotesque.
Sometimes that works; sometimes it doesn't. But I appreciate that, unlike Mr. Sandler, Tim and Eric don't linger self-indulgently over their own improvisations or expect us to find them adorable. In fact, they're profoundly unlikable characters, nigh on psychotic at times, and that's clearly just how they want it.
Verdict: Probably best watched by those in high spirits, to use a '70s euphemism I just learned from another movie.
Other New DVD Releases You May Have Missed
Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)
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