Sunday, January 27, 2008

Meet the Spartans

MEET THE SPARTANS (Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, 2008)

At the risk of praising with faint damning, MEET THE SPARTANS isn't the worst film I've ever seen; however, I'm not suggesting that this feature-length parody of 300 is good in any way. It's as unfunny and cheaply constructed as expected, but co-directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer set the bar so low with DATE MOVIE and EPIC MOVIE that they needed to reach NORBIT-like depths to provoke greater hatred for their latest work.

As in 300, Leonidas (Sean Maguire) and his fellow Spartans leave home to fight the Persians. Rather than engaging in hand-to-hand combat, they battle in a STOMP THE YARD-styled dance competition. That's pretty much the gist of MEET THE SPARTANS: borrow one film's framework to reference other movies and make fun of them in the lamest ways imaginable. Unlike many recent parody movies, at least this one has the semblance of a through line. Story is obviously unimportant, but an organizing principle in a sketch film like this is welcome. It provides clues as to how much longer the misery must be endured.

The shelf life for MEET THE SPARTANS is relatively brief. The film functions as a time capsule storing pop culture targets from November 2006 through September 2007. Although riffing on material no older than little more than a year, the filmmakers are at pains to explain anything the audience might have already forgotten. Don't recognize Ken Davitian as Xerxes? Never fear. The narrator will tell you that the character looks like the fat guy from BORAT (because it is!)

In essence MEET THE SPARTANS isn't terribly different from VH-1's BEST WEEK EVER, except for the lack of self-conscious irony and smugness. It stands above (or below) the culture and takes potshots at easy targets. The triumvirate of celebrity bad girls are mocked, Spartans are totally gay for each other, and reality TV judges are self-absorbed clowns. Finally, someone has the bravery to speak the truth!

Considering the humor's juvenile nature, MEET THE SPARTANS plays like something study hall students would scribble in their notebooks and pass around the table instead of doing their homework. Then again, that's not fair to the kids. They could probably write something funnier and more inspired than what passes for jokes here. It wouldn't take longer than fifty minutes to write.

MEET THE SPARTANS is so bereft of ideas that it pauses for ads, usually in the guise of poking fun at the commercials, and boasts two scenes with "I Will Survive" sing-alongs. (THE APPRENTICE/SPIDER-MAN 3 scene from the trailer is nowhere to be found unless I blacked out for a period or it popped up deeper in the end credits.) Find a friend and make wisecracks while watching ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT. You'll save the ticket prices and laugh a lot more.

Grade: F

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