"The worst flick of 2009."
The recent glut of generically-titled spoofs like Epic Movie and Date Movie began in 2000, with Scary Movie, which was the brainchild of several members of the Wayans family. After the awful Scary Movie 2, the Wayanses got out of the genre to focus on garish misfires like White Chicks and Little Man, while two of the Scary Movie co-writers, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, took the lead in running the idea into the ground. Their 2008 double-whammy of Meet the Spartans (working title: Epic Movie 2) and Disaster Movie represented the absolute nadir of frenetic, unfunny parodies.
Or so I thought! Now the Wayanses have come back to the trend they launched, and while they're apparently trying to distance themselves from last year's flops by calling their new spoof Dance Flick rather than Dance Movie, it doesn't matter. They stuck to the formula in every other way, producing a rancid concoction so thunderously un-amusing, so jaw-droppingly wrongheaded, that it's a front-runner for worst movie -- I'm sorry, worst flick -- of 2009.
The Wayanses -- five Wayans writers, one of whom also directed, plus several more Wayanses in the cast -- have chosen teen-oriented dance movies as their target, with the plot of Save the Last Dance, a $91 million hit from early 2001, as the framework. (Viewers who don't recall the details of that film's story will have to take my word for it that much of what happens in Dance Flick is in reference to it.) A girl from the suburbs, Megan (Shoshana Bush), gives up ballet after her mother's death and moves to the inner city, where most of her new classmates are black hip-hop dancers. Her new best friend, Charity (Essence Atkins), has a baby that she brings to school with her; Charity's brother, Thomas (Damon Wayans Jr.), becomes Megan's love interest and dance partner.
As usual, the subject matter is ripe for parody, if only someone would get around to actually parodying it. What Dance Flick does instead is trot out re-creations of scenes from Save the Last Dance, Step Up, You Got Served, etc., and alter them not by satirizing their content but by having the characters get punched in the face or urinated on. (The very first joke in the film involves someone peeing on someone else.) You don't have to be a trained humor professional to realize that this is not "parody" or "satire." It's references-as-comedy: The Wayanses show you things that you recognize from other movies, and you're supposed to laugh just because, well, you recognize it. Or because you think it's funny, automatically, when people get knocked down or hit in the crotch.
Every now and then, the film manages to do something that's genuinely satirical. In a flashback, we see Megan's mother rushing to Megan's ballet audition. Since we know from Save the Last Dance that she'll die in a car wreck on the way there, it's funny when she says she has to hurry because "it's about to start raining, and I have to check the brakes, and drop off the life insurance payment." Here the Wayanses are satirizing the predictable way that mediocre melodramas telegraph their plot devices long before they happen. Good for them.
But most of the "satire" is on the order of the two song parodies that appear in the film, both of them atrociously dull-witted. One comes during the segment spoofing High School Musical and Hairspray, where the Zac Efron stand-in, Jack (Brennan Hillard), bursts into song to reveal -- are you ready for the surprise joke? -- how fabulously gay he is. It's set to the tune of "Fame," which went "Fame! I'm gonna live forever! I'm gonna learn how to fly!" The parody lyrics go: "Flame! I'll be gay forever! I will always love guys!" So not only are the parody lyrics grimly obvious, they're not even the right number of syllables.
The other song parody deals with a grotesquely fat gangster, Sugar Bear (David Alan Grier), who speaks of nothing but food. He sings to the tune of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," from Dreamgirls: "And I am smelling food! I'm so hungry!" Get it? Instead of "telling you," it's "smelling food"! And instead of "I'm not going," it's "I'm so hungry"! "Weird Al" Yankovic could swallow a bag of Scrabble tiles and crap out a better song parody.
That's the film all over: spoofs that schoolyard children could come up with themselves, with no real creativity or cleverness. It's as if MAD Magazine were not just aimed at, but actually written by, 13-year-olds. So to all the world's 8th-graders I say this: Don't give up hope! Keep making the same jokes you're making now, and you may one day be a filmmaker, too!
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Eric D. Snider (website) loves comedies, but only when they're funny. He's strict that way.