Month: June 2015

IMPRACTICAL JOKERS

LOOK! THEY'RE FUNNY!

LOOK! THEY’RE FUNNY!

2011 – Present: Four hideous mutants amuse each other on camera.

This is one of those “make people awkward or upset and then reveal it was all a prank” things, like Candid Camera or Punk’d. Usually these shows involve a random person (or, occasionally, a celebrity) being manipulated by a talented comic, an individual who is able to slyly play with social conventions to maximize the awkwardness of the situation. In addition to the initial “Ha! Look at those idiots” response, we’re able to enjoy them because we can imagine our own reactions as the hapless victims.

Impractical Jokers flips this formula for maximum lameness: each of the four purportedly “funny” hosts will be forced to carry out an embarrassing mission by the other three. So instead of watching people on the street and thinking, “Wow, that might be me,” we’re watching the hosts and thinking, “Wow, they’re… stupid.” A typical set-up involves one host trying (read: failing) to be amusing in any way, interspersed with shots of his three cohorts braying like jackasses.

They are far more amused than you will ever be.

They are far more amused than you will ever be.

The show also keeps track of which host “fails” the most pranks. So it’s like a game show, but with the same four guys as contestants every single time. Who will win? Who will lose? Who cares? We don’t know these guys. It’s their show. They function as both the subject and the audience. As punishment for the “loser,” he must once again do something awkward (for him). This is an incredible and crippling format failure. Add to that the fact that the hosts form a quartet of the most atrocious-looking and comedy-less boobs to ever appear on television and you’ve apparently got a recipe for total success (the show is now in its fourth season).

Joe, Murr, Q, and Sal (Note that whatever Sal is looking at on his phone is more interesting and amusing than anything on the show)

Joe, Murr, Q, and Sal (Note that whatever Sal is looking at on his phone is probably more interesting than anything on the show)

I happened to tune in to an episode from the second season, which originally aired in January 2013, and my God was it bad. These guys are not funny. They can’t keep their composure. They can’t improvise. Immediately after being presented with their scenario, they giggle, break character, or stutter and stammer like total amateurs. Since they can’t think up good material on their own, their buddies feed them lines via a hidden earpiece. This leads to long pauses where the joker stands there going “Uh… um… so, yeah… uh…”

One scenario challenged the Jokers to convince people that fake words were real (sort of like Balderdash). Here are the words they came up with: Dwimplepeen. Cafafee. Jampaloon. Goofdookie. Note that they all feature a double E or double O. We are dealing with some real comic masters here. How do the Jokers get someone to admit that they think the word is real, you might ask? Joker: “But you’ve heard of it, right?” Purported Victim: “…Yeah.” WINNER.

Simply incredible.

The “main event” involved the Jokers trying to convince people to house-sit for them, despite an awkward situation in the bedroom. Murr’s featured a lot of princess toys and costumes. His reaction upon entering the room, as a pro: a chuckle, a hand over his mouth, and an “Um…” His buddies then fed him his lines, which he repeated after much hesitation and foot-shuffling. Q’s scenario: a room full of taxidermy. His reaction: “These are, uh…” At a complete loss for words. Then THE “VICTIM” of the “prank” bailed him out by suggesting, “Your little pets?” He replied, “Yeah, uh, you know, we got a fox… uh…” When the supposed comedians are the ones being put on the spot and unable to think of what to say, your show has a major problem.

Murr ended up being the loser (and with these four guys, that’s saying something). His punishment: take a lie detector test in front of the students and faculty of the Jokers’ old Catholic high school. Oh, boy! They’re really gonna nail him with some priceless zingers! Witness these questions, which are guaranteed to humiliate poor Murr and reduce the audience to fits of uncontrollable laughter:

“Do you wax your back?”

“Do you secretly enjoy boy bands?” (“Busted!” one of them howls. WHY DO I CARE?)

“Did you have a crush on one of your high school Spanish teachers?”

“Have you ever tried your girlfriend’s underwear on?”

Hint to the Impractical Jokers: it’s not funny if the answer to all the bad stuff is “yes.” You know the punchline as soon as the question is asked. It kinda ruins the comedy. Another thing that ruins the comedy: reacting the same way over and over. Keep in mind, Murr has been doing this kind of thing for years, and supposedly knows how to wring the maximum amount of hilarity out of a situation. I present a montage of his reactions to three questions asked in the lie detector session, and you tell me if you (or anyone) could do better:

Professional comic at work.

Professional comic at work.

To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill: rarely has so little talent resulted in so few laughs for so many.

ZOMBEAVERS

Zombeavers title

2014 – A delightfully typical horror movie cast travels to an isolated lake cabin, never suspecting that a medical waste spill has turned the local beaver population into ravenous zombies.

Let’s face it: zombies, like the vampires, ninjas, and pirates came before them, are played out. They enjoyed their time as a clever metaphor for a shambling, soulless society and even got a renaissance as the monster of choice for hipsters everywhere. But now we’ve been saturated by zombie horror, zombie comedy, and zombie TV shows. The zombie genre as a whole is in definite need of a rest or recharge.

Zombeavers gives the zombie a much-needed jolt by combining it with the cheesy killer animal. Night of the Lepus introduced us to the killer rabbit and Beginning of the End gave us the killer grasshopper, so why not beavers? The titular zombie beavers make a surprisingly credible threat, especially when they are revealed to be able to “pass on” their infection like any other zombie. My main concern was that it would turn out to be one of those movies that tries to be bad (or is conscious of its own mediocrity) and spoils whatever innocent charm it might otherwise have possessed, but in that regard it was a pleasant surprise. Aside from the absurd-sounding premise, Zombeavers plays like a good old-fashioned monster/slasher film.

The characters start off as pretty basic stereotypes (the chaste blonde, the brunette best friend, the slut, the douche, the jock, the prankster), but they evolve into pretty real, likable people (for the most part). Toward the end of the movie, I forgot that it was a pack of rabid beavers chasing them and really started to hope that certain characters survived. The script slips in plenty of surprises – for instance, just try and guess who the “final girl” will turn out to be. There were several times during the climactic scenes that I just sat back and uttered a genuine “WOW.”

Opening credit sequences get pretty short shrift these days, but Zombeavers provides an excellent one – sinister cartoon beavers menacing our Scooby Doo-esque gang of protagonists – with a pretty decent soundtrack. The makeup and special effects are minimal but well-done, with the animatronic beavers being a particular highlight. After being battered with fake CGI monsters for so long, having real, substantial creatures is a relief. The puppets and robots may not look entirely convincing, but the cast can at least touch and interact with them. What filmmakers don’t realize is that the human eye can detect CGI very easily when paired with real actors. It really destroys the subconscious sense that “this is real” when you can tell that the threat doesn’t even exist and the actors are fighting balls on sticks (see any of the new Star Wars movies or The Hobbit series).

It doesn't get any better than this.

It doesn’t get any better than this.

One complaint: there are far, FAR too many penis shots in horror movies nowadays. The human male weiner is by far the last thing I want to see in any movie, and there were a couple of them shoved right into my face. The weiner : run-time ratio was way outta wack. Coming hot on the heels of a truly gut-wrenching penis shot in the disappointing WolfCop, I feel like I’ve swallowed just about all the weiners I can take.

Add this to your Netflix queue post-haste, and maybe pair it with Grabbers for a great double-feature.