1- The extended anal rape jokes
Okay, I get it. Straight guys are repulsed and fascinated by anal sex. They find anal sex inherently funny. Putting things up your butt makes big laffs. In fact, it might come in third in a national guy-poll of “what makes a funny?”—right behind farts and poking fun at Chinese people. Given that youth-stunted frat dudes have been the ones pulling the strings behind mainstream comedy for a very… verrrrry … verrrrrrrry long time, I can’t say it comes as any surprise when comedies aim below the belt, specifically for rear-entry laughs. What simpler way to reassert laugh-protected homophobia? (If you question it, you’re a finger-wagging homo, amiright? Yah, dude, now lemme give ya a noogie and pretend I accept your differences and we can all go home happy, cool?)
What does bug me to no end, though, is when these INCREDIBLY TIRED jokes come from supposedly enlightened contemporary corners of comedy. Obviously, as evidenced by the lazy “film”making, writing, and acting on display in the sub-Amazon Women on the Moon anthology comedy The Ten, a doofy Decalogue of sorts from the bros who brought you (the much funnier) Wet Hot American Summer, coherence isn’t the goal. But how about originality? Can’t these guys funnel their oogie feelings towards butt-sex into something other than an incredibly repetitive sketch about two blandly smug white guys (Ken Marino and Rob Corddry, from The Daily Show, natch) commencing an improbably direct prison-rape relationship behind bars? Haven’t we seen this a million times before, from My Cousin Vinny to Weekend Update monologues from Norm MacDonald? Whatever good will viewers have towards the film based on scattered laughs and happy Wet Hot memories are flushed down the hole here.
2- The witless animation
In one segment, a horribly animated rhino wanders around doing drugs, fucking, and shitting out brown mounds with daisies poking out of them. It looks cheap. Unimaginative. See, that’s the joke. Cheap, bad animation is inherently funny. Family Guy. Spongebob. South Park. Forget cleverness. All you need for big laffs is zero scale, flat backgrounds, and barely emotive character drawings.
3- The closing cast sing-along
What’s more prevalent and tiresome than anal rape jokes? How about the filmmakers’ desperate final plea for audiences to go out tapping their toes with a cast singalong?! That’s riii-iight—when in doubt, have all the people you just forgot you watched slog their way through an incoherent bunch of half-hearted jokes return for a summarizing send-off of the bad movie you just watched by singing into the camera with ingratiating smiles. (See also: There’s Something About Mary, The 40 Year Old Virgin, probably some Freddie Prinze Jr. movies, and a bunch of other crap I know I saw but blocked out). Minus points for incorporating into the song more anal-rape jokes.
4- The lack of any remotely daring anti-established religion or anti-establishment-of-any-kind jokes
I know, I know: like Kieslowski’s distant cousin Decalogue, this is meant to have only a ribbing, tangential relationship to the Ten Commandments. This is not meant to be a serious social satire. Even still, the best “cheekily subversive” jokes they can come up with are: Jesus Christ as a South American ladies’ man and a bunch of disgruntled husbands skipping church to frolic nude together? How…cutting? And speaking of that last segment….
5- The lack of a penis
Again, we’re in the territory of the hilarity and revulsion inherent in male genitalia. Desperate househusbands stay home Sunday morning while their wives and children go to worship God, and slowly but surely start a clandestine club that involves them freeing their bodies and romping around without any clothes while listening to Roberta Flack music. The entire sketch is concerned with penises. Men stripping and literally “hanging out” together. Do we ever see a penis? Even a money shot of a penis? No, they’re all predictably, stylishly concealed throughout. Aside from the obvious chicken-shittiness of the actors and “film”makers here (I guess when you hire established actors such as Bobby Cannavale, you can’t ask him to drop trow while slumming it in a stupid sketch), the lack of the film’s central visual gag completely ruins the joke. Even the suspiciously de-politicized Simpsons Movie managed to sneak in Bart’s curious little wiener. Center frame.
6- The squandering of Paul Rudd
Rudd’s unpredictable career maneuvers over the past decade have seen him move from stage crossover to “next leading man” to smaller character roles and then to his current incarnation as comedy troupe vagabond. He’s a reliable party trickster; he beckons you with his improbable handsomeness and then knocks you for a loop with his flair for convincing self-deprecation. So likable is he that he would seem a natural for Master of Ceremonies duty, as he’s relegated to here. And while it’s pleasant and reassuring to have Rudd return in between each segment, flanked by two huge, insistently fakey stone Commandment tablets, director David Wain seems so confident in his abilities for breezy charm that he forgets to write any good material for him. So he riffs. And it’s not all completely unfunny, but Rudd seems unmoored and a bit lost. Not a nice way to treat your MVP.
7- The squandering of Winona Ryder
Ryder’s been due for a comeback, A Scanner Darkly notwithstanding. And…this is it? Fucking a wooden ventriloquist’s dummy, while moaning and orgasming? By my quarter-full theater’s count, not one laugh or gasp occurred during this thoroughly bizarre display of juvenilia. The sadder part is the zeal with which Ryder throws herself into this sketch (the “Thou Shalt Not Steal” one… get it? Get it?!!). If given good comic material, Ryder can shine (Beetlejuice, Heathers), but this feels like they’re just throwing this fallen star a (very dry) bone. Minus points: this segment really has so little to do with stealing (except that she does in fact abscond with the ventriloquist’s dummy in order to…have sex with it) that it smacks of being shoehorned into the film’s precarious thematic gimmickry. Double minus points if this is true because this is a skit that should have stayed at the bottom of the night-table drawer, where it must have sat since the writers were in high school.
8- Wet Hot American Summer feels tainted.
Perhaps it’s because it allowed its fine ensemble to fully embody its hilariously stock cast of characters, but WHAS was a late-summer 2001 treat that rightfully earned its cult stripes (I sat in a relatively empty theater upon its first release, only to return a mere two years later to a packed midnight screening, complete with audience members dressed in full summer-camp couture in tribute). While both films certainly come from the same brand of humor, which simultaneously extols and subverts clichés, only the former, which sustains an entire narrative, consistently grapples with its own form and being. The intentionally loose Ten Commandments framework of this broken-down contraption doesn’t provide the same understanding of comical context. Like Paul Rudd wandering around that oddly blue-screened black void that provides the film’s wraparound, it’s hopelessly unfettered, unsure of what it’s supposed to be satirizing. Therefore, there are sure to be less laughs of recognition than quizzically furrowed brows. Even as sketch comedy, the film has less connective tissue than your average episode of Mad TV, for which writer-director Wain occasionally wrote. Every single segment, and that includes the two passably funny ones, feels like a nearly rejected idea from the last half-hour of an off-week of Saturday Night Live.
9- It made me laugh out loud a few times.
I hate that I have to admit that, since the genuine laughs were so few and far between, and because the near-guffaws are all predicated on pretty stale routines: white woman birthing black twins and not knowing who the father is; Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonators; women being slapped. Surely, none of this seems funny in retrospect, but the general genial nature of the thing sometimes works its powers—and then you feel like shit after for laughing.
10- I just wasted way too much time writing about a film that no one will see anyway.