Last Friday, I saw a dismal movie called Scary Movie 5. I've spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about this movie, considering the creative minds behind Scary Movie 5 surely did not intend for anyone to devote very much thought to it. Purchasing a ticket to Scary Movie 5 is the movie equivalent of ordering the No. 2 Extra Value Meal at McDonald's: When even a Big Mac seems too lavish, you instead order two sad, instantly forgettable cheeseburgers.
The problem is, I used to love movies like Scary Movie 5. To this day, Airplane! and Top Secret! are two of my favorite comedies of all time. (Airplane!, especially, goes down like comedic comfort food after a tragedy like the recent bombing in Boston.)
Yesterday, Matt Singer at IndieWire wrote a terrific piece about why the spoof movie has declined into schlock. Singer writes:
The real problem, I think, is the way they're being made. Scary Movie V is cobbled together from spoofs of numerous recent horror and non-horror sources including Black Swan, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Paranormal Activity 2, and The Cabin in the Woods. But the spine of its narrative is taken from Mama.
At best, they had maybe three or four months to watch Mama, digest it, leach out the material for jokes, write, shoot, and edit their movie. If the movie feels like a very rough first draft, that's probably because it was.
Singer is correct. Another problem is that Mama is hardly an iconic movie worth spoofing. It's just recent. And just because something happened in a a given span of time doesn't mean it necessarily needs to be addressed in satire -- but that's not how people think these days.
So, to leapfrog from Singer's piece, I want to compare two scenes I've been thinking about way too much: one from Airplane! and one from Scary Movie 5.
A famous scene in Airplane!, released in 1980, spoofs one of the most iconic movies of all time, 1977's Saturday Night Fever (which, even at the time, wasn't all that "recent"). This scene is anything but lazy. In fact, it's so well done that the spoof itself became iconic -- it was the Airplane! take on Saturday Night Fever that Seth MacFarlane later spoofed in 2012's Ted. (Honestly, I just watched the scene below again and laughed out loud at my desk.)
Everything about this scene is great: The timing is perfect, it's well acted, it's well choreographed and, most importantly, it has something to do with the actual story. It's obvious that someone who cared filmed this scene.
A scene in Scary Movie 5 tries to spoof The Cabin in the Woods in similar fashion, which is odd for a number of reasons. First, The Cabin in the Woods itself is a deconstruction of the horror genre -- it's not a good movie to spoof because, in its own way, it's already a spoof. But, it is recent, which seems to be the only thing that matters to the Scary Movie 5 team.
So, how does Scary Movie 5 spoof The Cabin in the Woods? The entire scene is pretty much Snoop Dogg saying the words "cabin in the woods" over and over, followed by a scene that has nothing to do with anything that happened in The Cabin the Woods. In other words: The reference was enough. The actual content doesn't matter. It's filmmaking SEO -- hit your keywords, the rest is gravy.
I mean, look at that Airplane! scene again. Not once does it directly reference Saturday Night Fever. It's all in the setup, the music and the execution. No one had to say, "Boy, I sure do have Saturday night fever tonight, guys," eight times. If Scary Movie 5 neglected to mention the words "cabin in the woods," no one would have realized this was intended to be a reference to The Cabin in the Woods.
This is incredibly lazy.
It's the same sort of laziness that gives us cameos from Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan. There's no real reason to put them in Scary Movie 5 other than to say, "Here are these two people." I mean, Airplane! had cameos, but they were integrated in a clever way: Ethel Merman appears as a soldier who thinks he's Ethal Merman; Barbara Billingsley, who is the last person that we would expect to "speak jive," speaks jive. If Barbara Billingsley had appeared in Scary Movie 5 (I realize that her death, in 2010, would have made this difficult), her entire cameo would have consisted of making Leave it to Beaver references. (And the Beaver references would have most likely been crass.)
The problem is, even though Scary Movie 5 underperformed, it still made $14 million at the box office last weekend. I suppose there's no motivation to make this kind of movie good when laziness and striving for mediocrity seem to be paying off. Or, as Matt Singer wrote:
The great spoofs elevated comedy to the status of criticism. Modern spoofs are just dumb exploitation.
Indeed. And I think I'm going to watch that Airplane! clip one more time, because we're never going to see anything like it again. Except maybe in Ted 2.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.