Film Reviews: Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Hmmm, looks familiar. Vanessa Minnillo watches Matt Lanter go all Indy in Disaster Movie.
Disaster Movie
Starring Matt Lanter, Vanessa Minnillo, G. Thang, Nicole Parker, and Crista Flanagan. Written and directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Rated PG-13.

Ridiculousness abounds in last week’s movies, and not the good kind.


Since there’s only one movie coming out this week (the wonderfully titled Bangkok Dangerous) and it’s not being screened for critics, this space is being devoted to picking over the films that came out last week that were also not screened for critics.
Babylon A.D. already made headlines before it came out because it was publicly disowned by its filmmaker, Mathieu Kassovitz, the Frenchman who’s best known in America for his occasional acting roles (Amélie, Munich) and for his one previous Hollywood job, directing the 2002 supernatural thriller Gothika. Reportedly the studio recut Babylon A.D. to sacrifice plot and character in favor of action, which is why Kassovitz is upset. It’s hard to blame him, because the resulting movie is indeed a mess.
Vin Diesel stars as Toorop, a mercenary soldier in a dystopian future world who’s hired by a Russian mafia boss (an unrecognizable Gérard Depardieu under layers of prosthetic fat) to transport a young woman named Aurora (Mélanie Thierry) from a convent in central Asia to New York City. Chaperoning Aurora on the trip is a nun who’s played by Michelle Yeoh, so even though she talks about peace and nonviolence, you know she’s going to kick ass when bad stuff comes down.
In France or in Hollywood, Kassovitz’ thrillers have always been more about cool visuals than making sense — he can’t resist filming a slow-motion sequence with a rocket-propelled grenade detonating inches in front of Aurora’s face and somehow leaving her unmarked. Aside from that, this movie is visually unmemorable, with its depiction of the future that’s pretty much lifted from Blade Runner. Either Kassovitz or the studio hack who edited this thing makes hash of the fight sequences, and the climax is a disappointingly dinky car chase in which the bad guys strangely offer no objection when Toorop punches through their windows and drops bombs in their trucks.
Maybe the acting wouldn’t have come off as overwrought if the film had come to us with its original DELETE intact. What’s certain, though, is that the story goes spectacularly off the deep end when it turns out that Aurora is pregnant with the possible messiahs (yes, that’s plural) of an emerging religion. Absurd plot developments are nothing new for Kassovitz’ thrillers, but his operatic style has sometimes made up for them in the past. That style is little in evidence here.
Kassovitz might have done well to watch the action sequences in Disaster Movie, though I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone else. It’s the latest spoof by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer that parodies just about every popular movie from the last 12 months. Their previous films Date Movie, Epic Movie, and Meet the Spartans have made Friedberg and Seltzer into favorite whipping boys for those movie critics who even deign to notice them. That status is richly deserved, too, since their lazy send-ups barely bother to offer a comic twist on their sources. Salient example: A halfway decent comedy writer might think of mashing up Juno and Sex and the City with the idea that the pregnant teen’s sarcastic working-class attitude might be a worthy match for the overdressed, over-privileged, older SATC gals. Friedberg and Seltzer aren’t halfway decent, so they can’t think of anything beyond having “Juney” (Crista Flanagan) beat the crap out of Carrie Bradshaw (an in-drag Jason Boegh). To some people that might sound fun anyway. Trust me, it isn’t.
Still, that leads me to the one nice thing I’ll say about Friedberg and Seltzer: They take some care over their fight sequences and dance numbers, like the extended High School Musical parody early on. This film has plenty of both kinds of scenes, perhaps because the filmmakers know they don’t have enough comic material to fill out a whole movie. They’re not wildly creative at these, but they edit with respect to continuity, coherence, and the skills of their stuntpeople and dance doubles, which is more than some better-regarded directors can say. If they exerted the same effort over their writing, their movies would be borderline watchable.
Well, they’re not, and if you look at the fake trailers at the beginning of Tropic Thunder (which somehow managed to avoid Disaster Movie’s clutches), you’ll see what really good movie parodies look like. As far as bad movie parodies are concerned, they’ve always been with us, and in 10 years Disaster Movie will look about as unappetizing as that DVD copy of Spy Hard or Jane Austen’s Mafia! Wait, I’m wrong. It already looks that unappetizing right now.

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