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January 31-February 6, 2007

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'Epic Movie'

Photograph by John P. Johnson
Blanched: Jennifer Coolidge plays a formidable White Bitch who dishes out the pain to Kevin Hart (right), with some moral support from Tony Cox.

Sitting Ducks

Tell the editors at Cracked magazine: Seltzer and Friedberg are eating their lunch with 'Epic Movie'

By Richard von Busack

IT IS always surprising to see how an actor can make something out of nothing. Take Jennifer Coolidge, whose Junoesque frame was the inspiration for the acronym "MILF" in American Pie. Though Coolidge plays babyish imbeciles in Christopher Guest movies, she has some steel in her after all. Crowned and robed as "The White Bitch" in Epic Movie, she towers over her co-stars with a cool arrogance that makes you realize that she probably could have seriously played C.S. Lewis' White Witch. There aren't many roles for Valkyries these days. Too bad for Coolidge, because in profile, she looks like a figurehead for a battleship. Crispin Glover, doing Johnny Depp in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, is in some ways more unsettling than the real Johnny Depp. As a grade-A weirdo, Glover brings some verisimilitude that goes missing in the rest of this so-called film.

A narrator (Roscoe Lee Browne) holds the stories of Epic Movie together. There are four orphans, in four different film parodies. Lucy (Jayma Mays) does a terrible bit of The Da Vinci Code with David Carradine as the dead curator. Looking very disgusted, Kal Penn plays an orphan from Nacho Libre. Peter (Adam Campbell) is the picked-on mutant at a superhero high school—his super-ability is the power to grow chicken wings in his back. Finally, Susan (Faune A. Chambers) was thrown out of a snake-filled plane by a Samuel L. Jackson look-alike, but her fall is broken by a Paris Hilton look-alike on the ground. ("Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer ... are longtime writing partners who have sold 17 scripts in 20 years ..."—the press kit.) The four find golden tickets to Willy's Chocolate Factory, only to learn that the chocolate-maker (Crispin Glover) is a cannibal. Trying to escape his Victorian lair, they discover a wardrobe that leads to the magic kingdom of Gnarnia.

Since The Chronicles of Narnia had given me a bad time, I looked to Epic Movie for payback, only to learn that there are many, many great tastes that don't belong together. "The flywheel effect" that Jim Abrahams and the brothers Zucker talk about when describing Airplane! never gets a proper spin. The gag-momentum stops and starts and is broken with tragic MTV satires. Punching a celebrity impersonator, or kicking them in the balls, isn't the same thing as getting to the bones of how maddening celebrity culture can be. It's not like setting up a gag, or topping it. What goes on here is more like the staging of a costume party. The conversation ends right at the moment of recognition. Jayma Mays has the strangest imitation, because she's doing an unnamed Anna Faris, complete with agog mouth, tousled hair and popping eyes. Mays has what they gallantly call here "the dumbshit" part. As she's considered a dumbshit, she isn't allowed any graceful moments, unlike the real Faris, who has so far kept four hodgepodgey Scary Movies from falling apart. At the end, the four rulers of Gnarnia are hacking with swords at an army paralyzed by Adam Sandler's remote control from Click. That sums it up. As comedy writers, Seltzer and Friedberg are striking targets that aren't moving.

Movie Times Epic Movie (PG-13; 86 min.), directed and written by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, photographed by Shawn Maurer and starring Kal Penn and Jennifer Coolidge, plays valleywide.

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