Last week, the New York Times commemorated the 30th anniversary of “Airplane!” with a slideshow by Matt Zoller Seitz. After three decades, the spoof movie should be reaching, if not maturity, since that seems a poor choice of words in this case, then at least a refinement of form and style. But it just hasn’t happened; I’d argue the spoof movie is in a worse place now than at any point in its 30-year history.
Exhibit A of my argument: the new straight-to-DVD Judd Apatow parody “The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It,” which may be the single worst spoof ever, worse than “2001: A Space Travesty” and “Meet the Spartans” combined. Anyone who thinks imitation is the sincerest form of flattery has never seen this movie.
“The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall And Felt Superbad About It”
Directed by Craig Moss
Tagline: Extra Virgin Unrated: Better Than Regular Virgin!
Tweetable Plot Synopsis: A send-up of Apatow movies, and by send-up I mean 75 minutes of recycled jokes and a bunch of gratuitous nudity and pop culture references.
Salable Elements: In the films of Judd Apatow, a clearly defined movie brand to make fun of; a cast that of lookalikes convincing enough to make you do a double take as you walk past the box in the video store.
Biggest Success: The producers found an actor who looks and sounds exactly like Jonah Hill (Steven Sims). And, uh, the title’s kind of clever, I guess. It’s even spelled correctly.
Biggest Failure: It’s not that the movie has a single biggest failure, it’s that the movie itself is the single biggest failure in spoof history. A spoof is supposed to have fun with the clichés of a particular genre. “The 41-Year-Old Virgin” simply repeats scenes from Apatow’s movies with more nudity, vulgarity and a smattering of racist humor. So a guy who looks like Seth Rogen and a guy who doesn’t look like Paul Rudd reenact the “You know how I know you’re gay?” scene from “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” with some extra dildo jokes. And a guy who looks like Steve Carell gets his chest waxed. And there’s a guy who looks like Christopher Mintz-Plasse in “Superbad” and he’s got a fake ID with the name “McAnalovin” on it. And so on. Director Craig Moss doesn’t make fun of Apatow’s movies so much as he makes use of Apatow’s jokes.
Worst Moment: Sarah Marshall (Mircea Monroe) thinks that Andy (Bryan Callen) has impregnated her. For a while, they seemed like the perfect couple; they both enjoy Shirley Temples and farting (note: this is not a joke, neither by me nor the movie). But their relationship takes a turn for the worse when Andy’s friend who’s aging in reverse like Benjamin Button has sex with Sarah in his place (don’t ask). Eventually, Sarah confronts Andy at a Hawaiian resort where they’re both taking a vacation. Even though she thinks Andy impregnated her just one day earlier, Sarah has an enormous prosthetic baby bump. Andy is understandably confused. So how’d she get so big so fast? “Oh, I’m half-Mexican,” says Sarah.
Poor Mexico. As if poisoning their Gulf wasn’t bad enough.
Special Features: The “Virgin” disc’s sampling of extras includes a featurette on the film’s special effects department, in case you ever wanted to know how to make a vomit cannon, and a short making-of doc, where Moss and co-writer Brad Kaaya defend their work. While considering the project, the pair took a meeting with David Zucker who, they claim, explained how modern spoof movies work. Says Kaaya:
“[Zucker] takes a simple storyline and then makes fun within that storyline, whereas a lot of the newer movies are just a bunch of pop culture references grabbed from everywhere…so what Craig and I tried to do was sort of combine those two. And that’s where the Judd Apatow throughline kind of made sense. We’d use his storylines as a thread and then we can make pop culture references outside of that story for the comedy.”
First, if you need David Zucker to explain what a spoof movie is, are you really qualified to make one of your own? Second, his explanation, at least as relayed by Kaaya, makes absolutely no sense. It implies that the newer spoofs don’t have storylines, but, of course, they do; they’re just not any good. What really sets the ZAZ spoofs apart from their lesser progeny is the fact that the characters in their movies were people we cared about and sympathized with instead of simple walking gag factories. Also, they were funny. Maybe Zucker was so offended that two guys were making a movie off his legacy without even bothering understand his work that he gave these guys bad advice on purpose.
Worthy of a Theatrical Release: No. Even though “The 41-Year-Old Virgin” is an Apatow spoof, at least half the jokes are random grabs from the pop culture landscape that have nothing to do with his movies: there’s the aforementioned “Benjamin Button”-esque character, a “Dr. Phil” look-alike, a Yoda with giant green testicles, and, naturally, an extended “Twilight” ripoff.
Like those new spoofs Zucker
warned told Moss and Kaaya about, these “jokes” don’t even have punchlines; simply recognizing these famous characters and celebrities is apparently entertainment enough. This creates what we’ll call The Friedberg/Seltzer Paradox: the only way to get any pleasure out of these spoofs is to be extremely movie literate. But if you’re extremely movie literate, there’s no way you could possibly be fooled into thinking this so-called comedy is any good.
Maybe the most annoying fact about “The 41-Year-Old Virgin” is that it feels like a missed opportunity. There are spoofable elements in Apatow movies, Moss and Kaaya just don’t take advantage of them. Instead of having the Seth Rogen character start talking like Daniel Plainview for one random scene, why not make fun of the fact that Apatow casts him in all his movies, by having that actor pop up in a dozen different roles? Or consider “The 41-Year-Old Virgin”‘s parade of bimbo stereotypes. Instead of delivering even one female character that works as a critique of Apatow’s often negative depictions of women, they’re all underdressed hooter delivery devices.
The film reeks of desperation, and not simply because its protagonist hasn’t gotten laid in decades. Most parodies try to add humor to overtly serious genres; “The 41-Year-Old Virgin” starts with funny source material and proceeds to suck all the comedy right out of it. What’s left is a parade of tired gags, rehashed material, and a lot of gratuitous nudity. (It takes the movie only 41 seconds to hit the We-Don’t-Know-What-Else-To-Do-Throw-On-Some-Naked-Breasts Button, a possible non-porno record.) If Moss and Kaaya wanted to know how to make a spoof, they didn’t have to go ask David Zucker. Instead, they could have watched one of Apatow’s own movies, 2007’s ingenious mock-biopic “Walk Hard,” the only sign of life this once proud subgenre has shown in years.
For Further Viewing: Watch a small sampling of outtakes from “Pineapple Express.” These guys throw away more laughs in three minutes than “The 41-Year-Old Virgin” manages in 75.
[Photos: “The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It, 20th Century Fox, 2010]