The idea of a comedy which is essentially just a string of parodies or pastiches of other movies is not exactly a new idea – Bing Crosby and Bob Hope were already doing it in the 1940s – but the enormous success of Airplane! (released in Australia as Flying High in 1980) definitely ramped up production on this strange sub-genre of the spoof.
Now, with the Naked Gun, Spy Hard and Scary Movie franchises behind us, and the thriller-action-horror genres pretty much exhausted as targets for satire, Date Movie shifts the focus to movie romances. It is not a bad idea: everything from Hugh Grant vehicles and When Harry Met Sally (1989) to, more recently, Hitch (2005) and My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) provide the fodder to be mulched in this free-for-all loosely directed by Aaron Seltzer.
It has become a commonplace to ask of projects like this: how can you make a parody of films that are, in the first place, comedies? Rather than tackling this challenge head-on, Date Movie tends to merely "reference" examples like the Meet the Parents series – in this case, introducing a baby, a cat, a Streisand look-alike, and so on – before zipping on to the next item. Gags are laboriously set up, and then not followed through.
Back in the '60s, Jerry Lewis was praised by some intellectuals for pioneering what was termed the "withheld gag" – an odd form of comic sado-masochism that merely hinted at some hilarious possibility before abruptly terminating the scene. Date Movie is full of such withheld gags, some judiciously placed (such as a gender-bent take on Pretty Woman, 1990), others just frustrating.
For the target audience for such fare, it seems that the only thing necessary for enjoyment is the spot-the-quotation factor – once we have chuckled at the recognition of television's Pimp My Ride or a Michael Jackson look-alike offering "Jesus juice" to a stray infant, the joke is effectively already over. It is a weird sort of postmodern humour located firmly at the heart of the multiplex.
Date Movie earns some kudos from the fact that it has a recognisable ex-teen star, Alyson Hannigan from American Pie (1999) and Buffy, as its lead. The humour is frequently gross – taking one step further the already queasy set-pieces in films including Along Came Polly (2003) – but rarely inspired. Ultimately, one is struck by the conservatism of the filmmakers' choices: why not also weave in piss-takes of more cerebral romances like Run Lola Run (1998) or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)?
I am still waiting for the Art Movie spoof franchise.
© Adrian Martin February 2006