Meet the Cretins
Disaster Movie gazes upward at the lowest common denominator
By Jared Peterson
In fairness, Disaster Movie is not a disaster—it achieves exactly what it was intended to. Namely, to methodically reference and ruthlessly skewer as many pop culture phenomena as possible in ninety minutes or less. Oh, and to be unremittingly gross.
Writer-directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer started this parody franchise in 2000 with Scary Movie, a surprise hit that took to task the already self-deprecating Scream films. Since then we’ve had three Scary Sequels and three additional efforts structured loosely around one cinematic genre or another. Here, a weak apocalyptic premise provides the context for a cavalcade of crude jokes, random sketches and spontaneous musical numbers.
One morning, stuff starts falling out of the sky. A young man named Will (Matt Lanter) has had a mystical dream that may hold the key to stopping the chaos, and so he sets off to prevent the end of the world, while trying to save the life and win the affections of his estranged girlfriend (Vanessa Minnillo). Along for the ride is his flustered friend Calvin (Gary ‘G-Thang’ Johnson) and an assortment of familiar stock and mock characters, who join the quest for a few goofy scenes and then are dispatched by flying clichés.
The filmmakers’ crosshairs scan the whole media landscape, moving far beyond the big-budget event films referred to in the title. (The film might well have been called Recent Movie.) Equal-opportunity offenders, they take pot shots at family flicks like Enchanted and Alvin and the Chipmunks as well as Oscar darlings Juno and No Country for Old Men. Also downrange are TV shows like “My Super Sweet Sixteen” and “Hannah Montana”, and media-fishbowl celebrities like Jessica Simpson and Justin Timberlake.
Okay, credit where it’s due. Very rarely the film wanders haplessly into something like actual satire. The scene featuring Hannah Montana, for instance, goes on way too long, but it still manages to capture the absurdity and transparent avarice of the Montana/Cyrus merchandising machine. And the ramblings of a surly pregnant teenager, modeled on Ellen Page’s character in Juno, accurately lampoon the depleting charm of that film’s overwritten dialogue. A few genuinely clever quips and quirks appear to have been improvised by the actors, several of whom are current or former cast members of “MadTV”. One player in particular, Nicole Parker, has impeccable comic timing and a bright and versatile singing voice which she uses to send up several of the past year’s most annoying songstresses.
That said, to call Disaster Movie “sophomoric’”is an insult to even the rudest sophomores. Bathroom humor is a major theme, though hardly the most disgusting—no bodily function goes unexamined. Dozens of base sexual references are dispensed with locker-room exuberance, and several people appear naked save for strategically placed props. Many characters die stupidly violent deaths—the Juno character’s demise is lengthy and particularly disturbing, and played for laughs the whole time. With regard to adult language, it’s easier to say what you don’t get: the f-word. (It’s bleeped a couple of times, but never heard.) Besides that, every offensive word, gesture or inference comes into play multiple times.
So [in my best movie trailer voice] “This summer, if you see only one film with rabid, foul-mouthed, man-eating chipmunks…”
Well, it’s your dime.
At an August 30 screening, the following previews were shown: Punisher: War Zone, a violent actioner based on a violent comic book; Max Payne, a violent actioner based on a violent video game; The Haunting of Molly Hartley, a supernatural thriller; My Best Friend’s Girl, a dirty romantic comedy with Jason Biggs and Kate Hudson (this trailer had an a-word and some vomiting); and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, a teen-ish romantic comedy.
Jared Peterson taught high school English and film in Fairfax County, Virginia, for several years. Currently he works as a freelance writer and dispenses free literary and film criticism to anyone who stands still long enough. Sample his work at proweirdo.blogspot.com.