It Ain’t Spoof, So What Is It?

You can’t spoof
a comedy…
A number of people have written asking me what I think of Date Movie and Epic Movie…both of which, I must again point out, I had nothing to do with.

The films’ marketing campaigns make fair use of the fact that Date and Epic Movie were created by two of the six writers of the first Scary Movie. You know, the one from seven years ago.

Anyway, I’ve now seen both Date Movie and Epic Movie. I’ll refrain from discussing whether or not I liked the films, because I think they present something far more interesting to unravel.

What the hell are they?

I’m not being facetious. In many ways, Friedberg & Seltzer, the guys behind Date and Epic Movie, have created a new comic genre.

First off, I have to say…these are not spoof films. To understand what a spoof film is, consider the spoof par excellence: Airplane!

Airplane! is, in fact, a comedic version of an overly serious film called “Zero Hour!” And that’s really all spoof is. It’s a comedic version of an overly serious film. Spoofs are not satires (a fact over which Jim Abrahams and I first bonded). Airplane! has no larger point, no insight to offer, no criticism to make. It merely offers us a familiar drama, but stocks the drama with characters who are curiously moronic (so moronic, they can barely tell that each other is a moron). Spoofs use parody, absurdity, wordplay and broad physical comedy to repackage something that was pompous and purposeful into something that is aggressively pointless.

Over the years, the spoof evolved somewhat. The Naked Gun spoofed a genre of television show, rather than a specific movie. Hot Shots! started the trend of spoofing multiple films that are linked by genre, and the Scary Movies are obviously children of that film, although they’ve been pushing the boundaries of spoof. Superhero!, the film I’m working on right now, is, well…I’m not allowed to say anything about that, but I can say its spoof style will be less Scary Movie and more…well, I can’t say.

What I can say is that Date Movie and Epic Movie are not at all spoofs. They feature some spoofesque humor, but they break a few cardinal rules of spoofing.

They do comic takes on comic films. They go after not just one or two or even five movies, but upwards of ten or twenty. And ultimately, they’re not so much movies as collections of sketches in which the lead actors change costumes constantly, become different characters as they need be, and work within the ever-changing dictates of whatever the next sketch is.

Also, they don’t spoof genres, despite their titles. What they seem to spoof is pretty much every notable film that came out in the year or two prior to their release.

Finally, and most importantly, much of what they do is reference a film without actually parodying the film. For example, in Date Movie, Allison Hannigan’s character has a nightmare in which she discovers she’s about to marry Napoleon Dynamite. The Friedberg & Seltzer version of Napoleon Dynamite says the exact same things that the actual Napoleon Dynamite character said, and nothing more. Similarly, at the end of Epic Movie, a Borat look-alike shows up to say, “Is nice!”, but that’s it.

In musical terms, their genre is more like a mashup, whereas spoof is more like a cover or a new song with samples from another song.

So they’re not pure sketch movies like Kentucky Fried Movie, but they’re not spoofs of a film (Airplane!) or a genre (Scary Movie).

They’re actually a genre unto their own. That’s pretty wild. It’s like finding a new species of dog or something.

So what do we call this stuff (easy now…)?

My buddy Scott Tomlinson, who knows a bit about sketch comedy, has the best name for the genre so far: comic film re-enactment.

Got a better name?

Granted, you may need more than two films before you can really christen something a “genre,” and I don’t know how many more of these Friedberg & Seltzer are going to do. All I can say is, as a devotee and disciple and ordained Jedi knight of the ZAZ religion…

…it’s definitely something else entirely.

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