Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Late Shift: Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie

Posted By on Thu, Mar 8, 2012 at 2:47 PM

Two weeks ago, I saw a movie in which a man — presumably a snuff pornographer, but it isn’t made entirely clear — is graphically tortured and beaten to death by a contract killer with a claw hammer. The assassin then goes on a murderous rampage through a warehouse, seen only through the eyes of his terrified partner who walks in on him bashing a dude’s head against a wall. Kill List, a taut British crime drama that rapidly warps into vaguely Satanic survival horror, had the dubious honor of being the most uncomfortable movie experience I’ve ever had at The Belcourt.

And then I saw Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie.

I'm not even sure where to begin with this thing. Which, I suppose, is kinda the point. The fifth film in my project to see every midnight movie at The Belcourt this year, Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie (B$M) stars Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim as themselves, tasked to rebuild a decrepit mall in order to pay back Robert Loggia the billion dollars they wasted on a minutes-long movie starring “Johnny Depp” (it wasn't really Johnny Depp) in a suit made out of diamonds. There, they have to contend with a diseased man-child named Taquito (John C. Reilly), an insane sword shop owner (Will Forte) and a wolf. Also, at one point Eric is bathed in diarrhea and the word “Schlaaang” is used. Repeatedly.

I'm going to go ahead and admit I've never “gotten” Tim and Eric's particular brand of ridiculous anti-humor. It's not for lack of trying, though. I've seen every episode of their quasi-animated Adult Swim debut, Tom Goes to the Mayor, and most of their follow-up sketch series, Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job. But I also accidentally watched a lot of Inuyasha at 3 a.m. That sort of thing is bound to happen when Adult Swim is your late night white noise soundtrack throughout high school and college.

The point is, their style of absurdity never hit me in the right way. And this is coming from someone whose sense of humor lives and dies by that episode of Space Ghost where he chases an ant for 20 minutes. I find them funny in the most microscopic of doses, which didn't bode well for the 94-minute feature.

In any case, I held out hope that seeing this movie with a crowd would pull me out of my “this is stupid” tailspin, so I caught it on Friday, where I noticed things:

1. I was caught off guard by how many people came out to see this movie. Despite the fact that it premiered on VOD services more than a month ago, the first night saw a solid turnout of diehards. Not a full house, but a respectable crowd.

2. I wasn't, however, surprised by the makeup of the audience — mostly male, mostly between the ages of 18 and 28. It was a young crowd, not unlike two weeks ago at The Room. Among the people spotted? Fellow Scene photog Diana Zadlo, frequent Rock Block booker Jesse Baker, local MC Future, and a handful of usual suspects I recognized from previous midnight movies.

3. The specialty drink was a shot called “Shrim,” a frothy mixture of whiskey, lemon, maple syrup and bitters. I overheard that Belcourt mixologist Pat was told to make it brown and viscous. I'll give you three guesses as to why. Here's a hint: Scroll up.

4. While I was in line for a beer and a Shrim, I overheard regular midnight movie MC Jason warning everyone in the crowd that, should they need it, a trash can in the lobby was available for hurling into. I didn't see anyone make use of it, but that's a hell of a way to introduce a movie.

5. This movie sucks.

This isn't really the place to go into why B$M fails as a movie — I'll leave that to more capable hands — but I can talk about why B$M fails as a midnight movie. The biggest problem is that it's fundamentally boring. Once you get used to the rhythms and idiosyncrasies of the pair's comedic style, there's no more shock. There's no reflexive joy that comes from a weirdly pronounced word, a stutter, a bizarre edit, a YouTube celebrity cameo or a disgusting sound effect. It wears out its welcome quick, which makes the rest of the movie a total slog.

Then there's the fact that movies designed to be comedies never seem to fare well on the midnight circuit unless there's crossover with a traditional midnight-style film. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil works because its comedy intermingles with splatterhouse slasher horror. A screening of Airplane would go over well in part because of the nostalgia value involved (not to mention the fact that it's a punchline machine gun). You would think that B$M would work out fine at midnight, thanks to its Adult Swim pedigree, but there's a big difference in tone between idly watching Aqua Teen Hunger Force at 1 a.m. and going to the theater to see Tim & Eric.

Or maybe I just didn't get it. Maybe it's so artless that it's actually brilliant and I couldn't get past the movie's inauthentic, deliberate "badness." It aspires to the trappings of bad movie, which makes it uncomfortable and exhausting in its self-awareness. But of course, Tim & Eric fans might say that's the point. Here's my question to you Tim & Eric fans, particularly the ones who saw this movie: Am I missing something? The informal poll I conducted — which is to say, asking Jesse Baker about it when I ran into him at Gold Rush on Saturday — suggests that I'm not. But I'm up for convincing.

All I know is that I had to cleanse my palate with the Bjork episode of Space Ghost after I got home.

In two weeks: Lucio Fulci's infamous “video nasty,” The House by the Cemetary. Presented in English with Dutch subtitles. Seriously.

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