Comedy writer Brian Rubinow reminds us all of those few years that James Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer made extremely popular “comedies” we’d all rather forget about ten years later.
Ten Years Ago: “Disaster Movie”
By Brian Rubinow
I used to be something of a masochist. My friends and I would seek out the worst of the worst film on DVD and VHS to screen at our weekly film nights. And I don’t mean popular fare like The Room or Birdemic–films that, despite their thorough ineptitude, are still good for a laugh. Oh no, I mean the true dregs of the dregs, like Knight Chills, a horror movie about a guy who dies then comes back to life as his Dungeons & Dragons character. I guess this is why, 10 years ago, I thought it would be a fine idea to watch the Jason Friedberg/Aaron Seltzer opus Disaster Movie, which currently occupies the coveted #1 spot on IMDb’s Bottom 100. But I’ve learned something since then. When a scary movie fails to be scary, it becomes funny. When a comedy movie fails to be funny, it becomes an abomination not meant for human consumption. Whatever I was thinking then, I knew it would be a bad idea now. Yet, here I am, reviewing this piece of shit. I guess old habits die hard.
The 2000s was a weird decade for film. Traditional 2D animation was in its death throes, superhero movies were few and far between, and comedies got away with gobsmacking laziness. Case in point: Disaster Movie. While it’s certainly far from the worst film I’ve ever seen, it is easily the laziest. And that’s coming from the same filmmaking team that made Epic Movie, Date Movie, and Scary Movie 5. (Note: All of these films are also on the IMDb Bottom 100 list, as is Extreme Movie, which, while aping the naming convention of this dubious series, is unrelated.) Just try explaining to young people nowadays that you used to be able to make a major motion picture that did nothing but cram a bunch of pop culture references and characters from other popular movies into a water-thin plot. Consider the fact that this movie came out on August 29, 2008, and it references other movies from 2008. How fucking quickly did they want to dump this movie into theaters? Even with today’s digital filmmaking technology, it boggles the mind.
Relying as heavily as it does on references to pop culture and other, better movies that were out at the time, Disaster Movie and its ilk were destined to age particularly poorly. Case in point, the first joke of the movie nearly went by completely unrecognized. We open on an African plain, and a chyron informs us we are in 10,001 B.C. Ba-dum-tssh. Oh, you don’t get it? You don’t remember the 2008 Roland Emmerich film 10,000 B.C.? It’s funny! Because it’s like the title of that film! But different! Ah, you dang kids with your modern humor and YouTubes and such wouldn’t appreciate a fine joke like that.
So anyway, we’re in 10,001 B.C. and an African bushman is running from… something? I dunno. We’re never shown exactly what, but before long he runs into… Wolf, the gladiator from the reboot of American Gladiators. Yeah, remember that? No? It had Hulk Hogan in it for some reason? Anyway, he runs into Wolf and the film spends way too much time on the bushman and Wolf jousting with pugil sticks. Get it? Like from the show! Then, long after that joke premise has run out of steam, the bushman runs off and runs into… a sabretooth tiger! Except it’s not a tiger, it’s… Amy Winehouse. Who chugs an entire handle of liquor then belches hard enough to blow the bushman’s hair back. Then belches again. And again. And again. And a dozen more times. Comedy!
And on and on and on. It’s a pattern that repeats for literally the entire film. Just enough plot to carry us one step forward, then the momentum stops dead as we watch another slumming comedian do a shitty celebrity impression. Not even an impression, really. One of the characters will say, “Look, it’s ______!” Then the comedian will say, “That’s right, it’s me, _______!”, repeat whatever catchphrase that celebrity is known for, and scamper off. It’s like the film isn’t even trying to elicit laughter, just reactions of, “Oh yeah, I recognize that.” The comedians, to their credit, fully commit themselves to doing the worst impressions you’ve ever seen. Some of these comedians, like Ike Barinholtz, have thankfully gone on to bigger and better things. Friedberg and Seltzer, meanwhile, have gone on to make Vampires Suck, The Starving Games, and something called Star Worlds Episode XXXIVE=MC2: The Force Awakens the Last Jedi Who Went Rogue, which is currently in pre-production. Can’t wait.
Other late-2000 relics that show up in this hot mess: Flavor Flav, Prince Caspian (from the sequel to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, remember?), the cast of Sex and the City (played by men, since men dressing like women is the height of comedy), and Kim Kardashian. No, not as a character. Kim is actually in the cast of this fucking thing.
Look, I know the focus of this review is supposed to be how my perspective of the film has changed in the 10 years since I first saw it, but unfortunately, there’s just not much to report. I hated it then, I hate it now. The pop culture references were lazy then, and the ones I still recognize 10 years later are lazy now. If there’s one way my perspective on the movie has changed, it’s that I am now five years into pursuing comedy writing for film and TV as a full-time job. I’ve done sketch, improv, and stand-up. I write jokes daily on Twitter. So if anything, I have a fuller, more nuanced understanding of why the humor in this movie is just so bad. But you don’t need an expert on comedy to figure that out, right?
There is certainly a place for celebrity impressions and pop culture references in comedy. But Disaster Movie is precisely the wrong way to do it. If you want to see it done right, check out Anthony Atamanuik’s Donald Trump impression, or James Adomian doing Paul Giamatti. Or hell, go to the Groundlings any night of the week. You’ll definitely see comedy done better—with more subtlety, skill, and dedication—than you will in Disaster Movie, or any Friedberg/Seltzer film for that matter.
Would I recommend this film? Abso-fucking-lutely not. Even if you’re someone like me, who likes watching “so bad they’re good” movies, there are so many better options. Whatever you choose to watch, at least choose a film where it looks like they actually tried, hm? I think it’s the least anyone of us can ask.