Spoofs are deceptively difficult. Parody giants like Mel Brooks, the Zucker Brothers and the Documentary Now! crew realize their jokes must still be funny on their own and work as if their inspirations never existed. Otherwise, all you’ve got is just a parade of references without substance or value and a shelf life briefer than its subject.
1. Epic Movie, Date Movie, Disaster Movie, et. al
When it comes to the work of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, brows don’t come any lower. Using the weakest, emptiest references to fleeting bits of pop culture with zero subtext, the directing duo have successfully franchised 90-minute groin kicks and devalued the spoof genre for the foreseeable future. Although the Friedberg-Seltzer movie factory seems to have lost its luster with audiences, it was just 2010 that their $20 million Vampires Suck earned $80 million at the box office. Weep for humanity.
2. Zucker-Free Leslie Nielsen Spoofs (Spy Hard, 2001: A Space Travesty, Repossessed, etc.)
How can a man whose deadpan expression once kept us in stitches end up in such unfunny dreck? Leslie Nielsen‘s background in dramatic acting made his straight-faced one-liners in Airplane!, Police Squad! and the Naked Gun series all the more hilarious. But ironically, it was his background in spoof movies that soon typecast him in much-lesser parodies which hindered his dry delivery with cheap slapstick and totally botched the way Jim Abrahams and the Zuckers were able to evoke laughs from a simple look of misguided confidence. However, that trusty Nielsen-Zucker team-up backfired spectacularly in 2008 with…
3. An American Carol
Director David Zucker is a rarity in the entertainment industry and a complete oddity in the comedy world: He’s conservative. And following in the long tradition of right-leaning institutions trying to lampoon the left while remaining hip, funny and relevant, An American Carol is a colossal misfire. Featuring a binge-eating Michael Moore surrogate, tone deaf gay jokes, leftwing terrorist sympathizers and Bill O’Reilly, this spoof from 2008 not only missed its brief, pro-Bush era window but also failed to skewer Democrats as effectively as progressive hosts Jon Stewart, Seth Meyers and John Oliver have done on a routine basis.
4. Casino Royale (1967 version)
The bumbling spy is as integral to spoof movies as the underdog is to sports movies. (See Austin Powers, Johnny English, The Man Who Knew Too Little, etc.) And given the limited success rate for unwitting espionage plot lines to be legitimately funny, we thought to include the rotten granddaddy to the genre: 1967’s madcap romp Casino Royale. Non-canonical by popular demand, this James Bond reworking saddles an impressive cast with an unfunny, unworkable script that flies in all directions with no particular aim. When Peter Sellers can’t make a movie funny (let alone coherent), it’s time for a page one rewrite.
5. Movie 43
Speaking of impressive casts, this anthology spoof boasts household-name talent not only in front of the camera but behind it. No less than Kate Winslet, Bob Odenkirk, Julianne Moore, Jason Sudeikis, Elizabeth Banks, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, Emma Stone and Richard Gere (and that’s just a fraction) were involved with the making of Movie 43 — or what film critic Richard Roeper dubbed “the Citizen Kane of awful.” Produced on the backs of celebrities who owed somebody a favor, Movie 43 was shopped around and shot over the course of several years as producers begged talent reps to borrow their clients for a day or two of filming. Miraculously and lamentably, they succeeded.
6. The Onion Movie
Whereas Movie 43 prevailed in having its terrible vision preserved onscreen, The Onion struggled to keep a perverted image of its own work from being released. Originally conceived and written by the venerable satirical publication’s talented scribes, The Onion Movie was shuffled around the studio system so much, by the time it was rewritten, shelved, reworked, and produced, the movie was a shell of its former self and couldn’t measure up to its award-winning origins. Prior to release, The Onion disowned the Frankenstein’s monster of a spoof, but their branding remained as this groan-heavy movie crawled its way out of development hell and straight to DVD.
7. Not Another Not Another Movie
It’s one thing to fail at making a straight-forward spoof — it happens all the time — but to fall far short of a funny “spoof movie about spoof movies” is to crash and burn at a fantastic scale. Not Another Not Another Movie aims to poke fun at the slew of soulless parody movies but ends up being just as soulless and twice as conceited. The high concept might have worked in the hands of Edgar Wright or Charlie Kaufman — meta writers who can distort pop culture in ways that makes it funny on multiple levels — but it crumbles in the hands of lesser spoofmeisters. Burt Reynolds and Chevy Chase lend their diminished names to this 2011 title, and sadly, that’s the funniest thing about it.
8. Leonard Part 6
Even before he was revealed to be an irredeemable monster, the formerly beloved Bill Cosby already had his legacy permanently tarnished in the form of Leonard Part 6. Released just before Christmas 1987, this spy spoof was too dumb even for kids and had film critic Roger Ebert decrying it as the worst movie of the year. (That timespan would lengthen years later considering it holds a 9% currently on Rotten Tomatoes.) In the clip above, watch Ebert list the litany of offenses Leonard Part 6 commits, including flagrant product placement that causes the critic to profess, “[Cosby] ought to be ashamed of himself!” (That sentiment would intensify years later.)
9. The Works of Vince Offer
A vegetable chopper pitchman with infomercial aspirations tries his hand at comedy, and it goes about as well as you’d expect. Vince Offer, better known as “The ShamWow! Guy” or “The As Seen on TV Creep Who Beat Up a Prostitute,” wrote and directed the anthology spoof The Underground Comedy Movie, which was marketed in late-night cable TV ads alongside Girls Gone Wild DVDs and commemorative coins. Despite it being considered a giant waste of time and money with no redeemable value, that wouldn’t stop an infomercial genius like Offer. He topped himself with the sequel InAPPropriate Comedy which features Rob Schneider as a porn reviewer and the most embarrassing Adrien Brody performance this side of his reggae-loving Rastafarian character from SNL. Like his products for the kitchen and the garage, his movies are best left in the warehouse.
10. The Ridiculous 6
And lastly, we come to Adam Sandler, who is able to redefine “rotten” with every Happy Madison release. This time around, Sandler managed to drag Netflix down with him as his Old West spoof The Ridiculous 6 earned its share of controversy for its unflattering portrayal of Native Americans, causing several extras to walk off the set in disgust. (An impressive feat of offensiveness that even Jack and Jill couldn’t match.) Critics had a similar reaction to the movie, as it holds a pitiful 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But between Sandler and Netflix, only one party rebounded with their integrity mostly intact.
Experience the “Rotten” spoof Epic Movie this Friday at 8P on IFC.