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A paycheck’s a paycheck: Seven unapologetic hack directors.

A paycheck’s a paycheck: Seven unapologetic hack directors. (photo)

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Depending on your proclivities and where you live, here are the three most important directors with movies opening Friday: Andrea Arnold (whose “Fish Tank” opens in New York), the Hughes brothers (formerly of “Menace II Society” and long past their sell-by date, whose “The Book of Eli” opens wide) and Brian Levant.

It’s Mr. Levant, director of “The Spy Next Door,” who primarily concerns me, and I’m maybe using a different sense of the world “important” in his case. Aside from the remarkable fact that his movie involves Jackie Chan sharing co-star credit with George Lopez and Billy Ray Cyrus, and that it’s currently rocking zero percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes — this alleged comedy looks like one of the worst hack works to recently straggle into theaters.

You might look at a movie like “The Spy Next Door” (whose tagline — “Part spy. Part babysitter” — has been amended by some anonymous wag at my subway stop to “Fart spy. Fart babysitter.”) as just another kids’ movie by some anonymous hack. But anonymous hacks grow moss among us, garnering the careers owed to others through sheer persistence. Below, seven of the worst offenders.

Brian Levant (“Problem Child 2,” “The Flintstones,” “Snow Dogs”)

After doing sitcom-writing time on “Mork & Mindy” and “Happy Days,” among others, Levant took his skills to the big-screen, debuting with “Problem Child 2,” a continuation of the series that combined divorce guilt with “Bad Seed” tendencies. For wrangling the massive technical challenges of “The Flintstones” (a movie with an oddly high effort:value ratio), Levant got a reprieve of sorts — everyone loves a good sport — only to make the legendarily leaden “Jingle All The Way,” a time capsule of holiday shopping madness and not much else. Aside from the below, Levant’s last credit was the direct-to-vid “Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins,” picking up the franchise from arch-hack Raja Gosnell (see below). Some choice moments from “Snow Dogs”:

Shawn Levy (“The Pink Panther,” “Cheaper By The Dozen,” “A Night At The Museum”)

Levy — who graduated Yale at 20 after a decent career as a late-teenage actor — is clearly not a dumb guy, which makes his highly profitable ventures into cynical film hackery all the more woeful. Whether mutually building his investments with Steve Martin in debased ventures or marshaling the children’s FX to run on time, Levy seems to show a commitment to nothing more than paying the bills. It would take only a modicum of effort to make these products even a little less insulting, but I suppose that’s asking too much. In revenge, here’s Levy as child actor, in the apparently indelible “Zombie Nightmare.”

Dennis Dugan (“Problem Child,” Adam Sandler’s career)

Hacks breed hacks: Levant inherited “Problem Child 2” from Dugan, who similarly broke into features with the first installment. But — like Levy — Dugan was also an actor. Before directing the Adam Sandler landmarks “Happy Gilmore,” “Big Daddy,” “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” and “You Don’t Mess With The Zohan” (not to mention “Beverly Hills Ninja”) — Dugan did his time in ’70s and ’80s bit parts, mostly on TV. A rare film part was in 1976’s “Norman… Is That You?,” in which Redd Foxx discovers his son is probably gay and definitely living with the ultimate fruitcake in San Francisco. Dugan is that fruitcake, entrusted — in the words of Roger Ebert’s contemporary review — with little more than “[swishing] around whipping up Prune Flambe Surprise and packing his hostess gowns.” No wonder “directing” Adam Sandler seemed like a better option.

Peter Segal (“Tommy Boy,” “Anger Management,” “Get Smart”)

Peter Segal seems to have the unique ability to turning even the most promising casts into garbage — Steve Carrell, Alan Arkin and Dwayne Johnson were recent casualties in “Get Smart,” and somehow Jack Nicholson held his nose long enough for a paycheck on the uninspired “Anger Management.” So many improvisers, so few results? It’s awfully dispiriting. Here’s Segal’s opening sequence from “Naked 33 1/3: The Final Insult,” which is kind of funny as a sloppy parody of “The Untouchables” (I wonder if Segal knows Brian De Palma was taking on “Battleship Potemkin” in his stairway shootout) and as a ’90s compendium of hot topics: disgruntled postal workers, illegal Mexican gardeners and — hot damn — a clearly Islamic terrorist being shot just as a gag.

Donald Petrie (“Mystic Pizza,” “Miss Congeniality,” “Welcome To Mooseport”)

Another workaday actor turned director, Petrie never got the kind of name-billing Dugan did. As for his directorial skills — let’s turn to Scott Foundas’ appraisal of the recently failed Nia Vardalos comeback vehicle “My Life In Ruins,” which he described as directed “in a manner of speaking.” Subsequent failures include Gene Hackman’s last-ever thespian turn in “Welcome To Moosewood,” the Christopher Lloyd-starring reboot of “My Favorite Martian” and the uber-drecky “Miss Congeniality.” Fortunately, his reputation lies safe in the hall of chick flicks with “Mystic Pizza.” To counterbalance that, here’s a trailer for a particularly disreputable-looking movie he had a small role in: “H.O.T.S.,” aka “T&A Academy.”

Raja Gosnell (“Scooby Doo,” “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” “Big Momma’s House”)

Gosnell came up the hard way, editing his way from “Teen Wolf Too” to the relative heights of the worst parts of the John Hughes factory — “Only The Lonely,” “Home Alone 2,” ‘Mrs. Doubtfire” — before getting to forge his own bold path starting with “Home Alone 3.” I remember seeing the trailer for “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” and thinking “Huh, CGI talking dogs. Must be a Raja Gosnell movie.” And, no joke, the director of the first two live-action “Scooby Doo” movies (see how it all comes back around?) turned out to be the director of “Chihuahua” indeed. Here’s one of the more painful looking assignments from his editorial years, a buddy comedy with Christopher Lloyd and Gregory Hines:

Brian Robbins (“Ready To Rumble,” “Norbit,” “Meet Dave”)

Robbins actually made it through 114 episodes of “Head of the Class,” the ’80s ABC sitcom about a class for gifted students, of which he played one, alongside future Mike Tyson bride Robin Givens. After a stint hosting a “Pictionary” game show, Robbins turned to a second career in directing, with people to defend virtually every part of his career. Kenan and Kel enthusiasts love “Good Burger,” ex-high-school football players love “Varsity Blues,” and author/New Yorker critic Richard Brody is an advocate for the much-reviled “Norbit,” though he concedes Robbins “doesn’t do much more than stage-manage the riotous proceedings.” Here’s a trailer for “C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud,” which — as it proudly announces — stars “Brian Robbins from ‘Head of the Class,’ Gerrit Graham of ‘Police Academy VI,’ Robert Vaughn, Bianca Jagger, Larry Linville of ‘M*A*S*H,’ and many other popular stars.”

[Photo: “The Spy Next Door,” Lionsgate, 2010]

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.