25 August 2010

VAMPIRES ARE NOT THE ONLY THINGS THAT SUCK

Vampires Suck, according to the MPAA's notes, has been rated PG-13 for, among other things, crude sexual content. As is typical of that organisation, they've gotten it wrong: I disagree in the strongest terms with the implication that this film has anything resembling content.

The film is a spoof of the Twilight franchise, written and directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. These men became famous for their "____ Movie" series, such notorious objects as Date Movie and Epic Movie, and in 2008, the legendarily wicked one-two punch of Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie. None of which, I should mention, have I seen. Those who have are rather unanimous in their opinion that Vampires Suck, by virtue setting its parodistic sights on a single target rather than just tossing a whole bunch of shallow references to the big blockbusters and celebrity scandals of six months ago, is the most functional and successful of the Friedberg/Seltzer projects. I won't dispute that because I can't, but its kind of terrifying to imagine what could be less functional than Vampires Suck - I have to imagine that by the point you get to the worst Friedberg/Seltzer film, you're in the vicinity of CIA counter-torture training.

The plot is exactly that of Twilight and New Moon, crammed together in 80 minutes that includes the end credits, with all the characters re-named. It turns out that the most incisive note of satire present in the film is something that the filmmakers probably didn't even notice: the 252 minutes of those two films can be cut by more than two-thirds without losing any significant quantity of plot, and without feeling rushed - oh my no, Vampires Suck does not feel rushed. It is the most stretched-out 80 minutes that I have spent in a theater in a great many months. If you had told me that I was sitting there for several hours, I'd have probably believed you. But I timed it. Trailers, and credits, and it was all over in some 92 minutes.

In place of Bella Swan, we here have Becca Crane (Jenn Proske); standing in for Edward Cullen is Edward Sullen (Matt Lanter) - an indefensibly lazy joke, though Stephenie Meyer kind of set herself up for it - and Jacob Black is replaced by Jacob White (Chrisopher N. Riggi). The rest is still the same, basically: Becca goes to live with her estranged father (Diedrich Bader) in the gloom-covered town of Sporks, Washington, which is, the first time we see it, overrun with vampires to the degree that you could wonder if the Cranes are the only mortals. This idea is flirted with throughout the movie, and nothing remotely interesting is ever, ever done with it.

From that point on, it's the same old thing: Becca meets a super-pretty sparkly vampire, they fall in love, she is oblivious to the affections of a local Native American boy who is also a werewolf, eventually her vampire boyfriend calls things off because he doesn't want her to die, then he tries to kill himself by deliberately incurring the wrath of the vampire council. And when I say, "the same old thing", I mean it's exactly the same old thing: other than changing the climax from an Italian setting to a vampire-themed prom, pretty much every beat of the story precisely follows from one of the first two movies; the only difference is that Vampires Suck is putatively funny (oddly, though, this movie repeats a trick from Meyer's books, in which a brief passage from the climax is placed as the prelude, found in none of the films). The comedy sometimes comes, as you'd expect, from re-contextualising Twilight in a sarcastic way, as when Bella is approached by a jock who speaks admiringly of her boring personality and mumbling tone - that, by the way, is one of the best jokes here, which should give you a good sense of the film's signal-to-noise ratio. More often, the jokes really don't do enough to even earn the name "joke": it's usually something along the lines of "Plot point from Twilight, then a reference to the Kardashians". I am told that this is not at all dissimilar from the "humor" in such works as Meet the Spartans, in which the mere fact of "Here is Britney Spears interacting with Spartans" is meant to be amusing in and of itself. What this says about Friedberg and Seltzer as both wits and human beings is not terribly flattering.

It's not hard to imagine this working: Airplane! is one of the finest of all cinematic comedies, while being for long stretches virtually nothing but a line-for-line remake of Zero Hour. The comedy in Airplane! comes, however, from the filmmakers' careful redistribution of dramatic emphasis, understanding then when you stress this moment, it's thrilling, but when you stress that moment, it's silly; coupled with a bevy of immaculate performances that are serious in just the right ways to point out the absurdity of the characters. Friedberg and Seltzer either lack the skill or more likely the desire to do anything as deceptively subtle as the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker team. And they're miles and miles away from the masterpieces of all film parodies, Mel Brooks's Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, in which serious moments are undercut by a gag that comes out of the situation entirely organically and naturally, rather than being dropped on top of the situation arbitrarily (and of course it's no coincidence that, even through the parody, you can tell that Brooks really loves Westerns and Universal horror).

I can't believe I'm typing this, but Twilight deserved better. The books and movies are loathsome, and worthy of parody; but Vampires Suck is no parody. Friedberg and Seltzer obviously noted that the films have birthed a large culture of haters, and decided that they could make money by aiming at those haters, and were driven in not one inch by a desire to actively engage with the essential core of Twilight in a way that could be genuinely, savagely clever. It's all surface-level recreation of things that are stupid, and it's meant to be funny because we already know it to be stupid. The best example is Proske's performance, an uncanny impression of Kristen Stewart's dead-eyed, inert embodiment of Bella; it's actually brilliant acting, for no uncaring hack actress could have inhabited Stewart's mannerisms down to the last degree, as Proske does. But I've just described the joke. It's not, "Kristen Stewart plays the role in a slack-mouthed stupor, therefore X, in which X is a funny observation". It's played for nothing more than "Hey, you know how Kristen Stewart is a shitty actress? Amiright? HAHA!" Um, yes, you are right. Haha. Please let me go now.

But then, this is supposedly the only thing the filmmakers know how to do: point out that something exists, and then assume that we are laughing. It's admirable, I suppose, that they've managed to keep their pointing mostly limited to just one franchise this time around (other than an Alice in Wonderland gag that comes from fuck knows where), but Christ Almighty, if this really represents a major aesthetic step forward for the boys... All I know is that I'm glad that if I decided that I really ought to see one of their movies, I made it this one. If Disaster Movie is really that much worse, it would probably have driven me to deliberately choke myself to death on my own tongue. As it was, Vampires Suck was so egregiously bad at so many points that I was almost conscious of my own brain shutting down in protest; a feeling somewhere between falling asleep and watching yourself die. At times I almost felt that my mind was going to drift out of the theater into some hallucinatory ether, except that my body kept grabbing it back, growling, "Fuck no, if I have to watch this, then you have to watch this", and I snapped back too full attention, feeling a bit dizzy and nauseous. Though I expect this latter part was simply because the movie is basically an emetic.

What the hell, though, it's not as bad as Marmaduke.

1/10

4 comments:

chiaroscurocoalition said...

Not seen this or Disaster Movie, but having caught Date Movie and, worse, Epic Movie (the finale of which has them defeating orcs by pulling out the remote from Click and pausing them [???]), the success of Friedberg and Seltzer is one of the most depressing and befuddling trends in recent cinema. Dreadful.

Still, you saw this before you saw Piranha 3D? What are you doing?

Stephanie said...

awesome review, couldn't stop laughing :)

Kata said...

The worst and most incomprehensible thing is that Twilight is just so damn easy to parodize. There are tons of noteworthy parodies out there, most of them made by amateurs! You're right, it deserved better. This said, we may find some consolation in the fact that the original films themselves can count as parodies. Minus the "funny" part.

pip said...

I dare you to watch and review Epic Movie, Tim. I don't have anything to even offer you, I just fucking dare you to watch that movie, review it, and not think long and hard about killing yourself afterwards.